SOUTHFIELD—David Richards, whose award-winning architectural career included designing the Palace of Auburn Hills and downtown Detroit’s Compuware building, will accept the Lawrence Technological University 2020 Distinguished Architecture Alumni Award in a public online forum Thursday, Oct. 1 at 6 p.m.
Richards, principal and chief operating officer of the Detroit architectural firm Rossetti, earned a Bachelor of Science in Architecture degree from LTU in 1977. The Oct. 1 event will include a presentation by Richards on his career, as well as trends in architecture. To watch the event on Zoom, go to https://bit.ly/33JMIUL. On YouTube, it’s https://youtu.be/P8scp7WeA0. Live and archived LTU College of Architecture and Design lectures may also be viewed at https://www.ltu.edu/architecture_and_design/lectures.asp.
Richards was project architect leading the design of the Palace during its 1986-88 construction. The arena revolutionized the design of athletic and entertainment venues in its construction and amenities.
“The Palace changed everything both in terms of fan experience and the economics of these buildings,” Richards said. For one thing, he said, the first set of Palace luxury suites started only 16 rows up from the playing floor—unlike other arenas, where the suites were up in the rafters, far away from the action. “No one had ever put suites that low in an arena,” he said. “We didn’t know you couldn’t, so we figured out a way. And in solving how to get the suites that low, we also solved the acoustic problem of the vertical glass in the suites by putting a couple of rows of seats in front of the glass. It also allowed the arena to have a feeling of one continuous bowl. In a lot of other arenas you had very obvious separation of upper and lower bowls, like separating the classes.”
The Palace was also solid as a rock—so solid, in fact, that when the building was imploded last summer, bricks wouldn’t fall off the concrete core to which they were attached.
“The primary exterior wall was brick faced precast concrete, a technology that’s been used for a long time, especially in England, but they always had a problem with the bricks coming off,” Richards said. “We figured out a way to get a better mechanical bond between the concrete core and the brick. We used a relatively loose initial pour of concrete to really get the concrete into the brick, and the core was more hourglass shaped. Well, when they imploded the building, everybody wanted a souvenir brick, but they had a heck of a time giving out souvenir bricks. They couldn’t get the bricks off.”
Richards was born in Pontiac and graduated from Clarkston High School. He said he knew from an early age that he wanted to be an architect. After researching Michigan’s architectural programs, he chose Lawrence Tech for his undergraduate degree. And he’s been with Rossetti since 1978.
Early in his career, he designed everything from bank branches to small office buildings. After designing the Palace, though, it was on to bigger stuff, like the renovation of the DTE Music Theater and downtown Detroit’s Compuware building.
“At Pine Knob (DTE), we started the week between Christmas and New Year’s, developed some ideas, implemented them, and the place opened in May,” Richards said. “We transformed Pine Knob very quickly.” Included was one formerly infamous aspect: a lack of women’s restroom stalls. “We found one bathroom down by the stage, and when we took the ceiling out, we found coils of barbed wire,” he recalled. “Apparently they were put there to keep women from climbing up through the ceiling to the area where the performers’ dressing rooms were. Apparently that had been a problem.”
Of the Compuware building, Richards said: “A million square feet of office, a day care center, a very large corporate cafeteria, an exercise facility, underground parking, and a parking deck that the People Mover passes through. It was really complex, and it was so rewarding to see this kind of building going in in Detroit.” And he said the building, constructed from 2000 to 2003, was innovative for office buildings 20 years ago: “At that time it was unusual to have meeting spaces where you could sit on a couch rather than a conference table and chairs.”
Of the future of architecture, Richards sees more sustainability, and perhaps shrinkage, due to the two imperatives of sustainability and pandemic. When it comes to sustainability, Richards said. “It feels to me it’s something that has to happen. I think it is possible to get to net zero (energy use) buildings, but it’s probably more expensive, so it’s going to take some kind of government intervention. Many institutional clients, whether it’s university campuses or major corporations, are headed that way on their own. With smaller developers it’s more of a problem.”
Richards said he’s particularly intrigued by the future of sports venues. “With social distancing you’ll be at 25 percent capacity in the arena,” he said. “It’s hard to imagine that arenas or stadiums will work very long like that. On the other hand, to me the notion of a double row in front of me, a much wider seat, maybe a little table, all of a sudden I could almost have a space for four people around me, with people bringing me concessions and stuff from the pro shop,” would be a good thing.
Lawrence Technological University, www.ltu.edu, is a private university founded in 1932 that offers more than 100 programs through the doctoral level in its Colleges of Architecture and Design, Arts and Sciences, Business and Information Technology, and Engineering. PayScale lists Lawrence Tech among the nation’s top 11 percent of universities for the salaries of its graduates, and U.S. News and World Report lists it in the top tier of best Midwestern universities. Students benefit from small class sizes and a real-world, hands-on, “theory and practice” education with an emphasis on leadership. Activities on Lawrence Tech’s 107-acre campus include more than 60 student organizations and NAIA varsity sports.