Kemba Braynon, AIA, began working on the Quinn Evans Architects assessment of 14 Historic Belle Isle structures in 2015.

Prior to joining QEA, Kemba served as a Project Manager responsible for the City of Detroit’s Certified Local Government Historic Preservation Grants. Assessments of the 14 structures on Belle Isle are now being put to use for repairs, including structures such as the Nancy Brown Peace Carillon, Aquarium, and Casino. Mrs. Braynon took a moment to reflect on her time on Belle Isle; from her first visit to the vast amount of work she contributes to today.

 

Notes from the Architect

We can all remember our first impression of Detroit’s Belle Isle Park; I was meeting with a few neighborhood residents in Lafayette Park, when I was approached by a fellow preservationist who needed help managing a grant to re-roof the 1904 Albert Khan-designed Belle Isle Aquarium. “We’ve been given the funding several years in a row, but we can’t find anyone who can coordinate between city and state agencies and manage the entire project from start to finish,” she said. “You’re an architect; surely you must have the knowhow.” I wasn’t sure that I did, but it was an opportunity to return to the fold of the work that I had been somewhat divorced from while working in the government sector during the Great Recession. It was also an opportunity to see the 982-acre Park I had only heard stories of. As the daughter of a Detroiter who grew up on the other side of the state, I knew of Belle Isle from my father’s stories of horse-drawn carriage rides and skating on the river, but I had yet to actually see the Frederick Law Olmstead-designed park for myself.

That first grant for the Belle Isle Aquarium opened the door to the vast possibilities of preserving Belle Isle’s historic resources, which are vast. The Belle Isle National Register of Historic Places Nomination lists over one-hundred contributing resources, many of which were designed by world-renowned architects, and all of which require periodic upkeep to ensure that they remain in use for future generations. The Belle Isle Aquarium received its new roof, and over the years I helped to shepherd additional grants that provided vital exterior envelope improvements to the building, including masonry tuck pointing and window repair.  
 
As an architect with QEA, I’ve remained committed to helping preserve Belle Isle’s historic resources. Working alongside other dedicated preservation architects and landscape architects, we’ve completed numerous historic preservation projects on Belle Isle, including a Building Conditions Assessment which led to the restoration of 14 historic buildings on the island such as the Flynn Pavilion, Casino, and the Police Headquarters. But Belle Isle is so much more than just its buildings, and as such we are glad to be a part of the on-going Belle Isle Beachfront Revitalization Project which will help expand the recreational opportunities on the ½ mile long stretch of Belle Isle Beachfront.  

QEA and Belle Isle

To date, QEA has completed numerous historic preservation projects on Belle Isle, including a Building Conditions Assessment which led to the restoration of 14 historic buildings on the island including the Flynn Pavilion, Casino and the Police Headquarters. To learn more reach out to us at qea-detroit@quinnevans.com