Bridging the Gap

Phillip K. Smith III illuminates abandoned historic Detroit sky bridge

Architecture Midwest Urbanism
Phillip K. Smith III's Detroit Skybridge (Courtesy Library Street Collective)
Phillip K. Smith III's Detroit Skybridge (Courtesy Library Street Collective)

This past month, architect-turned-artist Phillip K. Smith III revived the 100-foot-long walkway that links two of Detroit’s most celebrated skyscrapers with a dynamic light installation.

Wedged between the Guardian Building and One Woodward Avenue, the suspended passageway was built in the 1970s to allow employees of the American Natural Resources Company and Michigan Consolidated Gas Company to pass freely between the two office buildings without interference from inner-city traffic and congestion. When one of the companies relocated in the 1990s, however, the bulky walkway was abandoned.

Fortunately, the sky bridge has now been revitalized with a permanent installation by the California designer known for his extravagant, light-based, and Coachella-esque works of art. Phillip K. Smith III has completely transformed the neglected passageway into a vibrant, floating bar of light that electrifies the streets of downtown Detroit.

Phillip K. Smith III's Detroit Skybridge

Phillip K. Smith III’s Detroit Skybridge (Courtesy Library Street Collective)

Detroit Skybridge is another example of how underutilized spaces can be reimagined for the benefit of the public,” said the owner of Library Street Collective, the art organization that conceptualized the project. “Phillip’s use of light and color, along with his understanding of architecture and scale, makes this a compelling project for the city.”

Smith drew inspiration from the geometric white concrete of Minoru Yamasaki’s 1962 One Woodward building and the variegated interior of the 1929 Guardian Building. His design, which is composed of shifting tones and moving planes of light, has added a pop of color and a renewed interest to the historic city’s constantly evolving skyline.

“By day, the Skybridge will continue to be seen as its historic self within the architecture and massing of Downtown. But by night, it will become a beacon for the beauty, creativity, and innovation of Detroit,” said Smith. “I am interested in creating experiences that tap into ‘universal beauty’—experiences that make us step away from our pattern, our life, our work, our errands, and allow us to see sublime beauty shifting and changing before our eyes.”

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