Swanson Building

People: Robert Saarinen Swanson

Date: 1964

City: Bloomfield Hills

Michigan State Historic Preservation Office, photo by Rob Yallop.

The Swanson Building is a two-story, commercial building centrally located in Bloomfield Hills near the intersection of West Long Lake Road and Woodward Avenue. The rectangular building is set back from the street with a narrow parking lot spanning the width of the property. Behind the building the topography of the adjacent property slopes from north to south. The building is symmetrical on all sides and is characterized by a series of dramatic pre-cast concrete fins that project perpendicularly from each elevation. The building is raised on a concrete platform that is clad with granite veneer along the front of the building. A wide, exposed-aggregate cornice defines the edge of the concrete waffle slab at the first and second floor level. The exposed aggregate fins appear as a series or row of stylized flags along the perimeter of the building. The fins are spaced more closely at the first floor level than at the second floor. Between the fins are dark bronze glazed curtain walls set back from the edge of the slab with heavy vertical muntins and a narrow spandrel panel at their base. At the first floor level each bay contains three vertical windows while the upper level bays contain nine vertical windows. Within the two-story volume of the main lobby, a circular stair winds around a tall, tile-clad cylinder.

The Swanson Building was designed by Robert Saarinen Swanson in 1964 to provide office space for his growing architectural practice. The building was constructed on property that originally contained the District No. 2 Circle School (the school bell and stone panel containing the school name are mounted on the retaining wall in front of the building). Offices for the firm were located in the east half of the first floor from 1964-78 with the remaining spaces occupied by various tenants. Swanson Associates had as many as fifty-five employees at its busiest time, but its numbers were reduced to about twenty employees when the firm closed in 1978.

Robert Saarinen Swanson received his bachelor of architecture degree from the University of Michigan and a master of architecture from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Swanson began his career with the firm of Saarinen, Swanson, Saarinen Architects. Later, in association with his father, J. Robert F. Swanson, he formed Swanson Associates, Inc. Architects, Engineers and Planners. Gaining a specialization in resort design and planning, Swanson formed a satellite office in Harbor Springs in 1976 (Swanson/Hofland). Swanson Associates closed its offices the following year at which time, Swanson began a sole practice as Robert Saarinen Swanson Architect and then later partnered with his daughter Karen P. Swanson. Robert Swanson is a member of the American Institute of Architects and served on the Board of Governors for Cranbrook Art Academy beginning in 1971.