Book Depository Building in Detroit’s Corktown Neighborhood to be a Next-Generation Workspace Envisioned by Ford Motor Company


Corktown, Detroit’s oldest neighborhood, is ripe for development. Major projects such as Michigan Central Station, the soon-to-be-opened Michigan Train Station redevelopment project, are underway. Adjacent and part of the larger Ford Motor Company project is the renovation of the long-abandoned Book Depository, transforming the historic building into a state-of-the-art innovation context.

The Book Depository, designed by global design and architecture firm Gensler in its Detroit offices, will be one of the first buildings to open in the appropriately named Mobility Innovation District after completion. Positioned as an industrial center, it will offer maker spaces, laboratories and mobility studios while using technology to create flexible work environments.



The book Depository was originally designed by the “Architect of Detroit” himself, the late Albert Khan, who is known for his designs for structures such as the Fisher Building and the Ford River Rouge Complex. The Book Depository, a sturdy, historically significant three-story brick building, was to be a partner of Michigan Central Station, which was connected to the station via a tunnel, in its heyday.

In allusion to its past, the location of the building in the future mobility district will be reconnected to Michigan Central Station. Given the historical significance and attachment to Khan’s name, Gensler wants to keep as much of the old structure as possible while adding a modern feel.

“We wanted to keep the architecture, so the exterior masonry, the entire concrete frame, including those really beautiful, sturdy columns with martini caps,” said Lily Diego, Gensler Design Director at the Book Depository, when speaking about the project. “So everyone will stay in the building. As you walk through the building, you will experience the history of the building for yourself. “

We tried to be very thoughtful as all modern interventions are clean and from the same narrative. It was about mechanics, it was about structure and infrastructure. Everything we added provided that kind of modern narrative about what innovation looks like today, she added.

Regarding the connection to Michigan Central Station, the completed project is to keep the tunnel connection intact while taking new factors into account. The elevated railroad lines along the building become a mobility platform allowing easy access to the train station, while expanded platforms blur the lines between the exterior and interior of the building.

Things get interesting inside the building, with space for drones and robot deliveries, amenities, and flexible open workspaces. In a time of remote work, the book depository will be equipped in such a way that easy communication with employees at home and abroad is possible.

The Gensler team strove to create a comfortable work environment where a person could work in a focus room in solitude or in an open seating area. Part of that flexibility is also to take advantage of new technologies like robotics that the book depository will involve.

“Inside the buildings is this four-story atrium through which everything, equipment, drones, as you call it, can circulate vertically. Mainly, we wanted this to be primarily for light infiltration and visual connectivity, but also the platform of what the future of robotics will look like when things are mobile in that direction. “


A reproduction of the book depository. PHOTO GENSLER

Although there is no defined completion date yet, once completed the Book Depository will be a unique work environment that transcends the boundaries of a work area. One factor that also emphasizes the importance of the building for the community and the region is the focus on mobility and connectivity.

As Corktown evolves into this massive mobility corridor, the Book Depository fits right into the mindset. The building is located near Roosevelt Park and provides easy access to planned greenways, the West Riverfront and Michigan Avenue, as well as easy access for alternative mobility options such as bicycles.

“We definitely have base building amenities that are fully convenient for anyone in there, whether it’s a working tenant or someone who is part of the entire community,” said Diego.

When we look at mobility, we assume that many people will ride bicycles. So we make sure all the banisters have what is known as a tunnel that allows you to easily cut your bike into the stairwell and take it to the bike storage room on the lower level, ”she added. “We make sure we have the basics for anyone trying to live a balanced lifestyle between storing bikes, getting your bike up a stairwell, and the rooms for mothers, meditation rooms, and prayer rooms . There are always areas of calm or comfort that take you away from work.

More renders of the Book Depository Project can be found on the Gensler website. Subscribe to our newsletter for more information on mobility, innovation and more in Detroit.


Dusty Kennedy