Tuesday, September 1, 2015

10 years of change: Giving the downtown Y its due

(originally published 9/1/15 in Model D)

I'm downtown on a recent sunny day, walking along Broadway, when the Boll Family YMCA stops me in my tracks. I don't know what it is about this moment in particular, but for the first time it seems that the nearly 10-year-old building is revealing itself to me. I stand there for a while, reflecting on its distinctive, volumetric presence (it takes up nearly a whole block), its play of transparency and materiality, its friendly relationship with the street and with its nearest neighbor, the Broadway People Mover station, and I think, "Wow. What a building."

Later, I reflect on the fact that we don't have many buildings like it in Detroit: handsome new mid-sized construction that embodies both a distinctly urban sensibility and a compelling clarity of expression. It's the kind of thing we could stand to see more of as the downtown revitalization marches on. In fact, it's the kind of thing that helped catalyze that revitalization in the first place. Bold and forward-looking when it opened in December 2005, the Boll Family YMCA continues to lead by example as the central business district burgeons around it. And with both Model D and the downtown Y celebrating 10th anniversaries this year, we thought it was the perfect time to take a closer look at this underappreciated but significant piece of contemporary downtown architecture.