The Opulent Pre-Depression Architecture of Detroit

American Beauty is a series of large scale architectural, military grade photographs of what was once known as the “Paris of the Midwest”. Since 2010 photographer Philip Jarmain has been documenting the increasingly rapid destruction of Detroitʼs early twentieth-century buildings. His emphasis in this work is on the architecture itself of these vanishing edifices: The form and the detail.

American Beauty Logotype
American Beauty Book Cover Die

Sperimus Meliora; Resurget Cineribus

The city of Detroit had an unprecedented impact on the modern world. The architecture of Detroit in the early 1900s rivalled that of New York, Chicago, or Paris. Then came the Great Depression of the 1930s. Though Detroit would rise again, the era of opulence was over. In 2009 a recession hit like a second Great Depression, compounding the decline and ruin. Now the majority of these majestic pre-Depression buildings they lie victim to scrappers, arson, and demolition.

Jarmain approached Hot Tomali to concept the branding, print collateral and website for this photo series, titled American Beauty, and subsequent exhibition. The logotype pays homage to the Detroit Tigers logo, originally created in the early 1900’s, still in use in a more refined way today. This was paired with robust/modern style of typeface to reflect the industry of the region.

Hot Tomali produced a coffee table book to support the exhibition as it moved from city to city throughout North America. The textured cover and blind emboss of the title was inspired by the plaques found on listed buildings, providing a tactile experience. The pages make use of generous amounts of white space, creating tension drawing the viewer to the clean lines of content.

The American Beauty exhibition has gone on to receive critical acclaim from numerous publications and news sources, including Wired, San Francisco Chronicle, CBC, Huffington Post, Daily Mail, Michigan Radio, Vancouver SUN, and Business Insider Australia. The book design itself won gold at the 2015 Lotus Awards.

What We Did

  • Branding
  • Art Direction
  • Print
  • Web Design
American Beauty Book Cover
Lee Plaza Text Page
Lee Plaza Exterior
Lee Plaza Interior
American Beauty Website

Unique Design

The focal point of this project were the images themselves. The use of negative space on the posters and the book really drew the viewer in to take a closer look at the details.

The Meridian Gallery in San Francisco is well known in art and design circles. The response for American Beauty was greater than they expected, they explained part of the reason for this were the striking poster designs. For the first time in 25 years the gallery received more footfall from passersby due to the posters outside the building. More people were drawn in to the gallery to ask for more information and take a postcard as a reminder.

The accompanying book did not go unnoticed either, winning industry awards for it’s unique design.