Meet The Book Depository’s Design Director

Like so many Detroit-area children who came of age in the 1990s, Lily Diego and her friends spent part of their youth wandering around the huge empty shells of abandoned monumental buildings. with the city itself.

They would rush to late-night electronic parties at the Packard Factory or the Russell Industrial Center or “find our way around the station and the Book Depository to look at the graffiti and see a life that once was when it was in its under the spotlights.” the ramp,” she says.

This may explain why his role in revamping The Book Depository is a defining challenge.
and honor of his career so far.

“When Ford brought this to us, to help us was this explosion of emotions because I felt like a teenager myself, my early 20s self, getting super excited that we could be a part of something that was part of our history, something I have always watched with such intrigue,” says Diego, 46, now design director for Gensler Detroit, the local branch of a global architecture and design firm. who was hired to design The Book Depository.

Diego, the first American-born member of his Filipino immigrant family, was a rebel in other ways as well. Her parents expected her to go into medical school, so the Bloomfield Hills native studied neuroscience as an undergraduate at the University of Michigan, earned a master’s degree in biomedical science at Wayne State University and spent a year in medical school before realizing his passions lay elsewhere. .

“It was right before I really had to start cutting up corpses when I realized, ‘Oh my God, no, nevermind, I don’t want to do that,'” she recalled.

Her UM friends were all “creatives” – designers, filmmakers and artists – and one of them helped her land a job in 2000 doing administrative work for Charlene & Co., a design firm in interior of Bloomfield Hills. Six months later, the company’s namesake, Charlene Morris, offered to train her. Six years later, Diego and Morris founded a spin-off company called A Perfect Setting which focused on designing luxury residential and office spaces.

Diego bought out Morris in 2008 and led the new business while simultaneously earning a master’s degree in architecture from Lawrence Technological University.

“Sometimes I had entrepreneurs and co-workers come into the studio to talk about projects at the same time I was trying to finish school,” she says.

One of her memorable early jobs, she says, was designing Nude the Salon in Birmingham in 2011 for a hairdresser friend. What’s interesting is that the aesthetic – raw and rustic, lots of exposed ductwork and lighting – would fit in perfectly with the book depository if someone were to open a living room there.

It’s no accident, Diego says, “A lot of my designs are rooted in Detroit and reflect the fact that it’s a city of making and crafting. … These elements are extremely natural for our region.

Diego’s creations were also in two well-known Detroit restaurants that have since closed, West Village’s Craft Work and Eastern Market’s La Rondinella.

Diego joined Gensler’s Detroit office in 2017 and is currently at the epicenter of two of the company’s most significant projects – the book depot and a $60 million renovation of Chicago’s iconic Merchandise Mart. . In both cases, it is a question of reinventing a historic site for the 21st century.

“Every building has a story – especially when it’s designed by greats like Albert Kahn – that you want to honor,” she says. “You can juxtapose modern aspects to it and create a new story, or an adjacent story, a marriage of that. But I like being able to keep and maintain what has developed as the history of the city.

She sees these renovations as, in some ways, a reflection of her own history as a potential medical student to where she finds herself now.

“In terms of my background and how it relates to the work we’ve done with [The Book Depository], both prove that anything can be redefined,” she says. “There is always a turn of the page. It’s a reinvention, and as long as you have the interest, the fervor and the intrigue to do it, you can.

Learn more about the Central Michigan Project hereand don’t miss the Hour Detroit interview with the architect responsible for the project here.


This story is from the October Dawn of a New Era feature Hour Detroit magazine 2022 issue. Find out more in our digital edition.

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