An Hour With... Michael Poris
We talk with the architect and co-founder of McIntosh Poris Associates
The walls of McIntosh Poris Associates’ office — formed by Michael Poris and the late Doug McIntosh — are lined with awards, including 60 from our sister publication Detroit Home. After high school, Poris lived in Israel working on a kibbutz and at archeological digs. He attended U-M and the Southern California Institute of Architecture, and eventually returned to Detroit. We ask him what’s on the drawing board.
Hour Detroit: What brought you back?
Michael Poris: I graduated into the recession … got laid off and went to Japan (to work on) a theme park. I came back and worked in L.A. In 1994 Doug McIntosh called … and convinced me to help (on) a great project. (But) downtown was abandoned. There was Union Street and The Majestic and (not) much else. We thought we could make a difference here.
Pushing to preserve buildings?
Mayor (Dennis) Archer had a proposal in front of him to tear down not just Hudson’s, but all the buildings on the east side of Woodward. The mayor (asked) “Why don’t we have a SoHo?” But you can’t have SoHo if you tear down all your historic buildings. We ended up on a committee to come up with an alternative.
You designed houses still?
We weren’t getting paid (for advocacy). The only big projects were with community development corporations. We worked to save Hudson’s … but weren’t successful. But we learned a lot. In 1999 we started working (in) the Broadway District. We renovated the Eureka Building.
(Having) restaurants down there felt like you were in a city.
How about the Park Shelton?
It did really well, and has been a real catalyst for Midtown.
The 1994 Empowerment Zone was a catalyst, too?
We used to work with Comerica … mapping development in the city. (At first) there weren’t even 100 projects. By 2008 there was over $30 billion of development.
A lot people think it all happened the last five years … There’s maybe $10 billion (in) five years. What we have now is momentum. But it wouldn’t (be) there without groundwork laid.
We don’t always save buildings.
It took Detroit a little longer to catch on. (Dan) Gilbert is a perfect example. … He can buy buildings for a lot less than what it costs to build.
The elephant in the room. Michigan Central Station?
(In 2002), we started working with CenTra (owned by Manuel Moroun) … about what it would mean to keep that building (as) part of their legacy (and) to help heal their relationship with Southwest Detroit. … City Council wanted to tear it down. They tried to bring in General Services Administration. … A tenant for the tower (would) pay to renovate the whole thing. The base could be a great cultural space like a museum or cinema. At this point, it could work for housing. I’m not running numbers (but) historic tax credits (could) pay for 25 or 30 percent of it.
One that got away?
The Lafayette Building didn’t need to be torn down. If that was still standing …
Dan Gilbert would own it.
Exactly. (Also), nobody can tell you why Hudson’s was torn down. If that was still there it could be 600 lofts. … (That) kind of thing chased people out of the city for years.
People are moving here again.
It’s similar to what brought Doug and I here. We could make a difference ... something that we all strive for in our lives.
What about the East Riverfront?
There’s a long failed history. Stroh did Stroh Riverplace (and) had plans to do more. (But) the riverfront is a lot of islands. The city invited teams to submit proposals. What the best use? … What do we do with Jefferson (so) people from across the street to get to the riverfront? What (will) it take for utilities? Parking?
The team is led by Chicago’s Skidmore Owings & Merrill?
Detroiters are very sensitive about having local involvement. We have talented firms here, but not (ones) who have done giant riverfront projects. Everything in Chicago that everyone loves, (SOM) basically did.
What’s different about this plan?
Everything is usually secret until it’s announced … no public engagement and involvement. All the sudden, “Poof.” A soccer arena. (But) we’re having meetings with different stakeholders. How do you make it accessible and diverse? These are bigger questions about what kind of city we want to be.
What’s an architect’s house like?
I actually live in a townhouse.
Not a “dream house?”
I’d love to (someday). I always said if I moved to Detroit, I’d live on the river. So (East Riverfront) is very exciting to me.
Born: In Detroit, grew up in Farmington Hills
Education: Bachelor of Science, University of Michigan; Master’s in Architecture, SCI-Arc in Los Angeles
• 20 American Institute of Architecture Michigan and Detroit Honor awards
• 61 Detroit Home awards
• 2 Historic Preservation awards
• 3 American Society of Interior Designers Awards
Finished Projects (highlights):
• Park Shelton Tower
• The Eureka Building
• Woodward Garden Theatre and Apartments
• Genesis Villas (low-income housing)
• Will Leather Goods
• Townhouse Detroit
• HopCat Detroit
• Vinsetta Garage
• Master plans for the Broadway District, North Corktown, Michigan Central Depot, and Lafayette Park
Projects in Progress:
• Ducharme Place (Lafayette Park)
• Foundation Hotel (former Detroit Fire Department Headquarters and Pontchartrain Wine Cellars)
• East Riverfront (with Skidmore Owings & Merrill)
Detroit Design Festival advisory board
AIA Detroit’s Urban Priorities committee member (2011 - 2014)
AIA Detroit and AIA Michigan Board of Directors (2011-2015)
The Heidelberg Project board member (1998-2012)
Founding member, AIA Detroit’s Urban Priorities Committee
Board of Trustees of SCI-Arc (2001 to 2011)
Preservation Wayne advisor (1995 – present)