A Look Inside the Above the Fold Headquarters in Detroit

With an emphasis on an eco-friendly design, an architecture pro turns an old auto repair shop in Detroit’s North End into his business’s headquarters
John Patrick focuses on a project in his Above the Fold headquarters in Detroit. Once an auto repair shop, the building underwent a remarkable transformation, thanks to Patrick’s astute eye. // Photograph by Joe Tiano

As a high school student in Seattle, John Patrick would often look skyward and ogle different buildings, especially the Seattle Central Library, which was under construction at the time. Its glass and steel appeal was mesmerizing and inspired him to explore architecture in college, he says.

Never did Patrick dream that just a few years later, he’d be an intern at the Office for Metropolitan Architecture, the Netherlands-based firm that designed the library. This was while pursuing a degree in economics at Tulane University in New Orleans.

“I studied economics and also really loved real estate and architecture and cities,” he says.

Today, he is an entrepreneur based in Detroit, running his company, Above the Fold. The business, which he founded in New York 11 years ago, represents talent and firms working in the architecture and design industries around the world. Locally, Above the Fold helped procure the design team responsible for the architecture and landscape projects for the Shepherd, a development by the founders of Library Street Collective.

Located in Detroit’s East Village neighborhood, the Shepherd is a repurposed historic Romanesque-style church and site that will serve as a public arts campus. Patrick also represented architect Edwin Chan, who designed the experimental live-work community True North. The award-winning development, which was completed in 2017, was the first ground-up project in Detroit’s Core City in decades and features custom Quonset huts occupied by individuals and businesses.

“I’m what a gallery does for artists,” he says. “They help develop artists’ careers, get press, assist with publishing books. I do that for architects.”

One of Patrick’s most remarkable feats yet in Detroit is his own headquarters building, an ongoing project located in Detroit’s North End. He’s been working there since summer 2022 and says he “designed the space to accommodate a variety of working, entertaining, and living needs.”

The building, which he bought in 2020, was a former auto repair shop built sometime in the 1930s or ’40s (building records indicate dates in both decades). It had been vacant for years, but that didn’t block Patrick’s vision for what it could become — a contemporary, art-filled space with huge windows, heated cement flooring, and an overall vibe reflective of Detroit.

Patrick wanted to create a space for employees while maintaining an industrial appeal that speaks to the building’s history. One of his main goals for the 2,550-square-foot space was to “reduce construction debris by saving existing materials to reuse in the project,” he says. Patrick installed a heated concrete floor. Above, eight skylights provide ample light.

“You really don’t have to turn on a light here until dark, so it’s very energy saving,” he says. “I purposely didn’t hang overhead lighting to limit working after the sun goes down.”

Another energy-saving move was to forgo air conditioning. Instead, in the summer, he opens his massive steel-and-tempered glass doors, which were built in Pontiac and weigh at least 400 pounds each. Patrick also plans to add a lime plaster that doesn’t have to be painted and adds “R-value” to the restoration process, reducing the heat loss and gain. (R-value is the term for measuring how well a material or type of insulation can keep air from entering or leaving a building.

“The higher the R-value,” Patrick says, “the better performance and reduction in energy usage.”)

From his simple desk (an Ikea tabletop), Patrick and his dog, Mack, a Doxie mix, look out to his urban landscape. A wall of artworks featuring prints, collages, architectural diagrams, original graffiti, and more adorn the space. Midcentury-style seating rounds out the look.

Outdoors, he plans to capture water for hydrating the landscape and add solar panels. The tons of dirt removed during excavation will be reused to shape the gardens and landscaping within the roughly 5,000 square feet of outdoor space.

“This is a super-old building that needed a lot of alterations, so we’re taking it one step at a time,” Patrick says, adding that he’s using local companies for much of the overhaul. He’s even considering living in the space someday, “in the back of the building.”
In 2024, he hopes to open a tiny shop in the building that would sell contemporary furnishings, like simple bookshelves and side tables that are “well designed and useful for staying organized,” he says.

It’s important for Patrick to be tied to the neighborhoods around him; the building renovation, which raised a lot of eyebrows and intrigued passersby, and the planned shop can do that, he says. “I want to connect to my community more; architecture is inaccessible. So many people have stopped to ask about the project. I want them to be more a part of it and make architecture more accessible. That’s a dream of mine.”

Flip Through Photos of Above the Fold Headquarters

This story is part of the April 2023 issue of Hour Detroit. Read more in our Digital Edition.