This African-American woman architect is bringing fresh ideas to big projects in Detroit

Architect Chandra Moore thrives on big, splashy Detroit projects.

She put a 23-foot kitchen island into actor Hill Harper’s renovated home in Boston Edison. She renovated a space adjacent to the the Detroit Symphony Orchestra into a wood-themed retail and lounge area. She designed the quirky concession stands on the Detroit Riverwalk. 

Most recently, her firm, coG-Studio is helping to transform Stelden Street into a Midtown hotspot. She is one of four firms participating in Midtown Detroit Inc.’s $21 million rehabilitation of the long-neglected street.

“We’re known as the go-to firm for thinking outside the box, doing things that bring people together for new thoughts,” says Moore, the 39-year old owner of a six-person firm, coG studio LLC,  based in downtown Detroit.  

Thanks to a construction and redevelopment boom happening in Detroit, lots of architects are getting work at the moment. 

What’s unique about Moore, however, is that she’s an African-American woman architect. Only 3 percent of architects in the United States are black, and only 0.2 percent are black women. 

Moore sees her identity as an asset. “This is a good time to be a woman architect. The world is changing right now, and women are ready to take charge, to re-evaluate even the simple thoughts,” she says. “When it comes to designing bathrooms, a guy thinks of an in-and-out experience while a woman would feel into the space and make it her own.”

Starting in early November, her architectural drawings will be distributed to contractors who will make co-working offices for women entrepreneurs in the former Casket Building on Selden.

 
Retail space and lounge next to the Detroit Symphony Orchestra designed by coG Studio – photo by Jason Keen

Saundra Little, owner of Centric Design Studio and another African-American woman architect in Detroit, worked with Moore on the redesign of the business incubator TechTown Detroit. 

Little says that Moore has many sources of inspiration. “She brings fresh ideas from around the country,” Little says. 

Craig Donnelly, TechTown’s chief strategy officer, says that Moore’s designs brought the space to life. “Right at the time when we were refining our focus on customer experience, Chandra and her team helped us realize improved public spaces that better reflect the value we hold for our coworking members, tenants, and visitors.”

Moore’s father, Walter Moore, built multi-family housing in San Francisco. From the age of 6, she hung around his studio, learning how to draw and make blueprints, and followed him around to job sites. She made deals with her mother, Che Moore-Bell, to do chores in exchange for copies of Architectural Digest — copes of which she still has to this day.  

The call of the Midwest prompted Moore to leave San Francisco, her family, the streetcars, steep hills, and thriving downtown. She chose to attend the University of Detroit Mercy School of Architecture for bachelor and master’s degrees. She liked the small, closely knit college with a commitment to urban architecture. Upon graduation, she traveled to China, Italy, and London to study the built environment. 

Moore met her husband, Zelan Banks in Detroit. They planted roots here and are raising two toddlers. 

That spirit of creativity coupled with an ability to meet deadlines and stay on budget drew her to historic realtor H. Jason Hill, who specializes in celebrity homes. He has referred her to five clients, including Hill Harper’s Fisher Mansion, which he bought for $1.25 million. The Junior League of Detroit just completed its Designer Show House at Harper’s home where thousands of visitors viewed her handiwork.

 

Working for Harper, who is also owner of the Roasting Plant Coffee downtown, she aimed for a modern, airy feel to the old Tudor mansion built for an early automobile executive. She opened up the first floor living room and library and floated the book shelves on the second floor. With the help of structural engineers, she took out numerous walls in the sprawling house with 14 baths and 14 bedrooms.

Over the years she designed homes for retired Sen. Carl Levin and his wife, Barbara, as well as his daughter Kate Levin Markel, a grant maker who is COO of the McGregor Fund. Her portfolio includes large and small projects in the city and suburbs. 

But what makes her most proud are the smaller commissions she does for her community. She designed a group of waiting rooms for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital in Tennessee and a children’s sensory garden on Woodward and Grand Boulevard to reflect her love of children.

At the Social Grooming Club, a barbershop near Wayne State University, she put the waiting area in the center with barber chairs all around, reflecting the value of customers to sustaining the business. 

“Social Club is one of my favorite commissions because … it gave us the opportunity to showcase an innovative for how people can gather at barbershops,” Moore says. “We provide some in-kind services for those type of projects as I believe in entrepreneurship and community.”


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