Country Club of Detroit Transformed To Expand Member Amenities and Services

McIntosh Poris Associates Preserves 1920s Historic Architecture While Creating New Facilities

McIntosh Poris Associates’ design for the Country Club of Detroit features a new bowling and fitness center inside the 1927 clubhouse to give members a resort-like experience. Left Photo: Brett Mountain. Center and Right Photos: Christopher Lark. Click here for high-resolution images.

DETROIT:  The Country Club of Detroit’s mission “to become the premier country club in Michigan” is closer to reality since this venerable institution, founded in 1897, completed a major renovation of its historic clubhouse.  The new fitness and bowling center inside the 1927 clubhouse is part of a long-range plan to offer current members a resort-like experience and give potential members a compelling reason to join.  The architecture, renovation, and interior design by McIntosh Poris Associates of Birmingham, MI, addresses existing infrastructure concerns, while maximizing the variety and quality of the club’s amenities on 212 acres in Grosse Pointe Farms, MI.

The new fitness and recreational spaces occupy a former bowling center originally built as a natatorium wing of the Tudor-style clubhouse, where the brick façades and footprint of the original building have been preserved.  To create the 13,100 square feet of new facilities, the building basement was lowered by seven feet to provide taller ceilings and larger interior spaces on the basement and main levels.

“We used the language of the original architecture so the new spaces look like they have always been there, while updating and modernizing the interiors,” says Michael Poris, AIA, principal of McIntosh Poris Associates.  He says the design team drew on the Tudor Revival-style aesthetic of the original building in creating trim profiles, wall treatments, lighting fixtures, and other details.  The clubhouse—originally designed by Albert Kahn in the early 1920s—was destroyed in a fire and replaced with a new clubhouse in 1927 by Detroit-based Smith, Hinchman & Grylls in the Tudor Revival style of Kahn’s original.

“McIntosh Poris Associates stood out in the interview process because they understood the Country Club of Detroit’s vision to take a big step forward while paying due respect to its storied past,” notes Craig Cutler, General Manager of the Country Club of Detroit.  “The result was the transformation of an underutilized wing of the clubhouse that effortlessly combines with the existing architecture.”

So the historic structure could remain undisturbed, 120 steel piles were erected to shore up the building during the excavation.  Sensors were installed to monitor any displacement of the foundations, which only moved 1/100th of an inch throughout the entire construction process.  The piles were left in place and incorporated into the new deeper concrete foundation walls.

The structural changes allowed for a new, six-lane bowling alley in the basement level with a bar, buffet, and casual dining facilities.  The expanded height of the fitness club on the main floor provides room for a mezzanine with additional fitness equipment and space beneath for yoga.  The natatorium’s original arched plaster ceiling was restored and existing windows uncovered and replaced with insulated glass for improved thermal performance.

A new entrance, constructed of brick matching the original façades, allows members to reach the fitness area directly without passing through the formal front of the clubhouse.  It leads to a spacious corridor, called the history hallway, where memorabilia from the country club is displayed.  One of these artifacts is a silver trophy won by Arnold Palmer at the beginning of his career in 1954 on the club’s 18-hole course.

In addition, the architects studied state-of-the-art athletic and fitness clubs to ensure the exercise areas offered the latest machines and programs, from stationary bicycles on the mezzanine to yoga and aerobics classes.  Sound-absorbent surfaces were used to minimize noise transference, and state-of-the-art equipment installed in both the fitness and bowling centers.  “The spaces are designed so you feel like you are in a modern fitness center, but feels like the 1920s club,” says Poris.

While updating the interiors, the architects repurposed select features of the clubhouse to preserve its historic character.  The original metal windows replaced on the main floor were saved, fitted with mirrors, and installed in the lower level bowling alley so the space wouldn’t feel like a basement.  The wood planks of the original bowling lanes that once covered the pool were turned into tables and benches for the new alley and an antique chalkboard for scoring was added to the space.  Detroit-made Pewabic tiles and markers from the original swimming pool were salvaged and displayed in the bowling alley.  These artifacts testify to the history of the 90-year-old clubhouse and its former natatorium.

In addition to McIntosh Poris Associates, the building team included McCarthy & Smith (general contractor), Peter Basso Associates (MEP engineer), Desai/Nasr Consulting Engineers (structural engineer), Soundscape Engineering (acoustical engineer), and G2 Consulting Group (geotechnical engineer).

McIntosh Poris Associates is a full-service architecture, interiors, and urban design firm.  Founded in 1994 by Michael Poris, AIA, and the late Douglas McIntosh, the firm transforms buildings, communities, and urban centers with architecture created through dialogue.  Since 1994, McIntosh Poris Associates has won more than 100 awards for single- and multi-family residential, mixed-use, commercial, hospitality, institutional, and arts projects throughout Michigan, California, New York, and Ontario for private, public, and non-profit clients.