City of Design

First-ever Detroit City of Design Competition brings kinetic energy generators and a nap room

One winning proposal, Garden Novela, is pictured here. (Other Works/Courtesy Design Core Detroit)

Detroit is known as the birthplace of Motown and techno, lauded for its thick pizzas and Coney dogs, and scrutinized as a decadent example of urbanism under late capitalism. For better or worse, the city and its reputation fascinates city-fixers, attracts artists, and galvanizes community action. Some Detroiters hope to spin a different kind of change with the first-ever Detroit City of Design Competition, an event that will bring three winning installations to select city neighborhoods.

Designers from the 31 UNESCO Cities of Design, a designation bestowed by the United Nations’ UNESCO on urban areas with distinctive design cultures, were asked by neighborhood organization to design “solutions” (a loaded mandate) to boost safety and walkability in Hope Village, Southwest Detroit, and Grandmont Rosedale. A jury of locals, city officials, and designers from elsewhere chose installations from Detroit’s SmithGroup; Detroit’s Other Work, and Montreal’s Collectif Escargo. Design Core Detroit, an organization that promotes design as economic development, spearheaded the competition. The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation contributed funding for the initiative.

“Urban spaces have a tendency to become hard and cold if left unattended,” said Caitlin Marcon, deputy director of Complete Streets at the Detroit Department of Public Works, in a press release. “Durable materials that meet our need for longevity sometimes do not spark our desires for beauty. These prototypes harness the creative and softer qualities we seek while being functional for street life and gathering.”

The projects will debut in September during the Detroit Month of Design and will be relocated to their chosen neighborhoods in April 2020. Each winner received $20,000 to design and build their prototype.

Take a look at the images below to learn more about the selected designs. All quotes are designers’ statements from the media release:

Rendering of a pavilion constructed from wooden frames, with embedded LED strips

Cyclerate (SmithGroup/Courtesy Design Core Detroit)

Cyclerate
SmithGroup
Hope Village

“Cyclerate aims to enhance public safety through unity, lighting, communication, and play. The installation, which lights up using kinetic energy generated by hand-powered cranks and stationary bike generators, encourages the community to work together to illuminate the structure. Participants can also engage in a friendly competition with one another to identify who can produce the greatest power output on the cycles. Expect to be surprised by the power produced through real-time statistics. The installation currently features LED lighting, Bluetooth speakers, and USB power charging stations. With its built-in expansion capability, the scalable structure can accommodate additional cycles, componentry, and lighting.”

Rendering of abstracted pink people below a lit-up cluster of canopies

Garden Novela (Other Works/Courtesy Design Core Detroit)

Garden Novella
Other Work
Southwest Detroit

“Garden Novella is a platform to express cultural, collective, and individual identity. It weaves together recorded stories from Southwest residents to serve as a guide through a modular system of welcoming vessels. Sun-powered lanterns, hanging gardens, seating, and the recorded stories combine to create an interactive environment. The featured stories express the double consciousness experienced by many in the Southwest community; they aim to connect generations, repair the damage caused by repatriation and explore the process of translation in a bilingual community.”

Rendering of a gabled timber pavilion in front of a V-shaped structure

3Rooms (Collectif Escargo/Courtesy Design Core Detroit)

3Rooms
Collectif Escargo
Grandmont Rosedale

“3Rooms consists of three spaces that are intimately linked to the world of the house—simultaneously conveying a sense of belonging and celebrating the beauty of united communities. The first ‘room’ is ‘LeJardin’ (The Garden), where the community is invited to participate in agriculture. ‘Le Boudoir’ is for nap lovers, readers and anyone who desires [siq] a rest in the shade of fruit trees. Finally, ‘The Hut’ features a steeper incline, making it a perfect spot for anyone who wants to be a little more playful. Each module lights up in the evening with a soft glow, functioning as a fireplace in the middle of the neighborhood. The hue alternates from red, blue, mauve or multicolored. 3Rooms is a safe cocoon for improvised gatherings. Like a poetic metaphor of the surrounding houses, it is merry, bright, colorful and full of life.”

In a statement, Olga Stella, executive director of Detroit Design Core, noted the project’s potential impact: “We are inspired by the innovation presented in the winners and finalists and the way they demonstrate the value of design to the community. We hope these installations will peak [siq] the interest of private and public groups to commission the winning design teams to create permanent fixtures in these and other neighborhoods.”

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