Wayne State University Richard Cohn Building

People: Harley, Ellington, & Day

Date: 1959

City: Detroit

Michigan State Historic Preservation Office, photo by Rob Yallop.

On November 18, 1959, the Wayne State University Richard A. Cohn Building, named for the late Detroit publishing magnate, opened as the new home of the College of Nursing, financed through a 1956 gift from the Detroit Hospital Fund and the Richard Cohn Fund.

Emphasizing the play of light and shadow on the faade of the building are regular narrow, white stone, vertically- projecting slabs that cut towards the faade on their top and bottom extremities, ending below the top of the brick base story and slightly above the roofline. They divide the window wall’s continuous glass faade into tall, rhythmic bays and provide a silhouette to the top of the building and dramatic shadows falling on the brick ground floor.

The faade’s entrance bay itself serves as a backdrop for several decorative features. A broad granite platform leads to the building’s aluminum-door entrance. Above the main entrance is a thirty-six-by-twenty-foot screen composed of an aluminum and glass honeycomb composed of 172 panels of oval and triangle-shaped glass pieces. The glass panels, in shades of blues, olives, and gold are superimposed, calling to mind the effect of the “ever-changing patterns in a kaleidoscope.”

In the interior of the building a mosaic pool with a three-tiered waterfall decorates the lobby.

The architects of the Cohn Building, the Detroit-based firm of Harley, Ellington and Day were also responsible for several Detroit government and institutional buildings, including the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center (1955) and Veterans Memorial Building in Hart Plaza (1950) and, in Washington D.C., the Department of State Building (Harry S Truman Building) (1960). Today the firm is known as Harley Ellis Devereaux.

(Text excerpted from the Wayne State University Walking Tour script developed by the City of Detroit Historic Designation Advisory Board staff.)