As a part of Detroit's Wasserman Projects exhibition, Desire Bouncing, a panel discussion addressed the future of architecture and art in Detroit. The panel was moderated by Reed Kroloff, principal of Jones Kroloff and former director of Cranbrook Academy of Art and Art Museum. The panel included exhibiting artist Alex Schweder, associate curator at MoMA's Department of Architecture and Design; Sean Anderson, architectural critic; Cynthia Davidson, Venice Biennale U.S. Pavilion co-curator; and Mitch McEwen, assistant professor of Architecture at Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning at University of Michigan. Detroit is physically changing. Some of its architectural treasures and thousands more of its abandoned homes have been demolished. But now that Detroit is undergoing the slow process of rebuilding, what kind of architecture will replace it? This and other questions were discussed among an expert panel of architects and critics that gathered last Friday at Wasserman Projects, a gallery and event space in a renovated fire truck maintenance facility in Detroit's Eastern Market. Around 50 guests attended the panel discussion, called "Architecture By Any Means Necessary." Kroloff began by asking the panelists, "What are things architecture can do beyond creating a city environment?" "Structures are receptacles for stories, for meanings," said Alex Schweder, an artist who often combines performance and architecture in his work. "The structures in Washington D.C. are a manifestation of stories we tell about our country." "Buildings can perform things we never thought were possible," said Mitch McEwen, a founding partner at A(n) Office and Principal of McEwen Studio. Her example of Le Corbusier's Carpenter Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which changed her conception of architecture, lead to an argument about the interaction between a building and its visitors. Cynthia Davidson described her distaste for Detroit's Renaissance Center, the headquarters of General Motors, often criticized for its confusing walkways and lack of synergy with downtown. "[Designer John] Portman makes you realize how controlling architecture can be," she said. In response to a question about what new architecture in Detroit should do, Schweder advocated architects and city managers give up some control. "Our roles can be collaborative with client and users," he said. "People want voice and agency in the look and use of their city." The discussion took a turn towards political issues and actual implementation of these ideas. Sean Anderson, acknowledged the difficulty Schweder's proposal. "History is often not recognized by developers that come and rebuild cities." During the audience question portion of the panel, someone mentioned that vast areas of Detroit that have no architecture, but "only the ghosts of architecture." He then wondered if this "absence" was worth preserving. "Detroit is a city of single family homes," answered McEwen. She felt that memorializing vacancy was the wrong approach. "I hope the city rebuilds, but with respect for the logic of the single family home." Desire Bouncing will be on show through April 9th at the Wasserman Projects at 3434 Russell Street, #502, Detroit, Michigan 48207. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ScgU9lB3Ves
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As part of the U.S. Pavilion for the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale, 20 photographs by 18 individuals have been chosen as winners of the “My Detroit” Postcard Photo Contest. “The twenty photographs to be printed as postcards will help us tell the exhibition visitor short stories about life in Detroit,” explained co-curator Cynthia Davidson in a press release. The pavilion, entitled The Architectural Imagination, will present 12 speculative architectural projects for four sites around Detroit. The postcards, made from the contest winning photographs, will be available at the pavilion as well as be part of the exhibition catalog. Picked from 463 entries, the images were chosen by photographer and sociologist Camilo José Vergara, who has photographed Detroit since 1985, and Davidson. The images range from views of iconic Detroit architecture, including the Michigan Central Station, to family portraits of local Detroiters. Ten of the contest winners are Detroit residents. "Detroit has a rich culture and history to draw from as we work toward creating a vibrant future," said Robert Fishman, University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning interim dean and professor. "The photos recognized in the postcard contest are a reflection of Detroit over time that we are excited to share with the world." The Architectural Imagination is being organized through the University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture, by co-curators Cynthia Davidson and Monica Ponce de León. The U.S. Pavilion will be open at the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale from May 28 – November 27, 2016. The Postcard Photo contest winners are: Sara Jane Boyers, Santa Monica, CA Derek Chang, New York, NY Jon DeBoer, Royal Oak, MI Antoinette Del Villano, Brooklyn, NY Jennifer Garza-Cuen, Reno, NV Geoff George, Detroit, MI Erik Herrmann, Ann Arbor, MI Julie Huff, Detroit, MI William McGraw, Dearborn, MI Ayana T. Miller, Detroit, MI Ben Nowak, Oak Park, MI Kevin Robishaw, Detroit, MI Salvador Rodriguez, Saint Clair Shores, MI Harrell Scarcello, Southfield, MI Sue Shoemaker, Brown City, MI John Sobczak, Bloomfield, MI Cigdem Talu, Montreal, Quebec, Canada Corine Vermeulen, Hamtramck, MI
Detroit muralist Katherine Craig (a.k.a. Exactly Hitops) is taking legal action in federal court to protect one of her vanguard works, as the owner the artwork’s building plans for development. Painted in 2009, The Illuminated Mural at 2937 East Grand Boulevard in Detroit’s Milwaukee Junction neighborhood has been an icon of the North End’s burgeoning art scene. The nine-story tall “bleeding rainbow,” as it is often referred, was painted with the support of a Community + Public Art: Detroit grant from the College for Creative Studies. As one might guess, the mural was executed by pouring over 100 gallons of colorful paint down the side of the 125-foot-tall building. In hopes of saving the mural from destruction Craig has filed suit in the U.S. Circuit Court, citing the Visual Artist Rights Act of 1990 (VARA), a federal copyright act specifically passed to protect visual artists, including muralist. This would not be the first time that VARA has been invoked regarding murals being destroyed by building owners. After his six-story tall mural of Ed Ruscha was painted over on a Los Angeles public building in 2006, artist Kent Twitchell sued the federal government, ultimately winning $1.1 million. The potential developer, Princeton Enterprises, a Michigan-based property management and construction firm, bought the building in mid-2015 with plans to sell or develop the site. Located near the College for Creative Studies, the building has recently been used as artist studios, one of which was used by Craig while she completed the mural. The 1913 building was designed by the eminent Detroit industrial architect Albert Kahn, designer of the Packard Motor Car Factory and the multiple factories for Henry Ford, for the Detroit Storage Company. Predating his famed 1928 Fisher Building, 2937 East Grand is an example of Kahn’s early Art Deco style. Interest in the building and the area has grown since the painting of the mural. With the neighboring Midtown booming with new commerce, and the future M-1 Rail passing from the North End to the Downtown, the area is primed for future development. Either way Craig’s lawsuit plays out, it will mean a new precedent for artist-developer relationships as former art communities in urban centers become desirable real estate.
“City ‘til I Die” is the motto of the Detroit City Football Club (DCFC), a member of the National Premier Soccer League, the largest soccer league in the U.S. Now, the team is asking its fans to put their money where their motto is to help restore a historic neighborhood soccer stadium. DDFC is looking for a new home now that their fan base has outgrown their current home field, Cass Tech High School Stadium, just outside of downtown Detroit, “The success of the 2015 season saw us turning away people at the gates," DCFC co-owner Alex Wright said at the launch of the teams ambitious funding campaign. "It was a clear sign DCFC is ready to take the next step, and grow as an organization. Come spring of 2016, Keyworth Stadium will be the home field both our supporters and the residents of Hamtramck deserve.” The Keyworth Stadium Wright refers to is a small neighborhood stadium that is currently owned and used by the Hamtramck public school system. Hamtramck is a small city that is nearly completely surrounded by the city of Detroit, and sits five miles north of the downtown. The low concrete stadium sits directly in the neighborhood with small bungalows coming right up to its outer walls. As the first major Works Progress Administration (WPA) project in the Detroit area, Franklin D. Roosevelt was on hand to dedicate the stadium in October 1936. Now in great need of restoration, DCFC has an unorthodox plan to raise the needed funds to save the 80 year old stadium. Leveraging new state legislation, DCFC is looking to its fans to help finance the estimated $3 million it will take to fully rehabilitate Keyworth Stadium. Under the Michigan Invests Locally Exemption (MILE) Act, local businesses are able to receive investments from Michigan residents anywhere from $250 to $10,000. This means that individual fans are able to lend money to the team in order to move the stadium project forward. Investors will then be paid back with interest from team revenues. This model of fundraising is a stark contrast to how many sports teams use tax payer money to fund stadium projects, and DCFC is very proud of this. Wright points out, “On our way to saving history, Michigan residents will have the opportunity to make history, by joining us to complete what we believe to be the largest community-financed project in U.S. sports history." The funding project, run on MichiganFunders.com, is hoping to raise $750,000 to add to the team's own funds. Improvements to the stadium will include much needed structural reinforcement to the grandstands, new bathrooms, locker rooms, lights, and press box. A first phase to bring the stadium up to usable standards is expected to be complete by April 2016. When finished, the stadium will hold between 6,000 and 7,000 fans, which is more than double the capacity of the Cass Tech stadium.
Detroit has joined 16 other cities designated by UNESCO as a City of Design as part of its Creative Cities Network. Detroit is the first U.S. city to be named a City of Design, and one of only five other cities in the U.S. to be inducted into the Creative Cities Network. Detroit’s application for inclusion in the UNESCO program was submitted by the Detroit Creative Corridor Center (DC3), the creative industries advocacy organization responsible for the Detroit Design Festival. Detroit has seen a renaissance in its downtown, as it draws on its own historical background as a city of design and manufacturing. According to DC3, “Metropolitan Detroit is home to the highest number of commercial and industrial designers in the country.” This results in the creative fields being the third largest employer in Detroit, only behind healthcare and general business, with over 12,300 individuals working in the creative fields. As part of the application DC3 produced a film with local director/filmmaker Stephen McGee to highlight the diverse breadth of the Detroit design scene. The short film includes scenes of the much talked about Detroit watch makers Shinola, the quickly revitalizing Detroit Riverfront, Detroit-based architecture firm LAAVU, and the much lauded College of Creative Studies, along with over 40 other architectural and design highlights from around the city. https://vimeo.com/140651533 Founded in 2004, the UNESCO Creative Cities Network’s goal is to “promote cooperation with and among cities that have identified creativity as a strategic factor for sustainable urban development.” Along with design UNESCO recognizes cities for six other fields including Crafts & Folk Art, Film, Gastronomy, Literature, Music and Media Arts. Detroit joins 116 other cities, including this year’s class of 47 cities from 33 countries, as part of the Creative Cities Network.
Farming Detroit: City considers expanding urban agriculture to include raising and slaughtering livestock
Adding to its normal population of lions and tigers, Detroit may be gaining a whole new demographic of furry inhabitants if proposed legislation passes in the spring allowing urban farmers to keep livestock in the city limits. In many American cities urban agriculture means community gardens set up in empty lots. Detroit is no exception in this respect, but things might be getting a little more rural soon in the Motor City. After a year-long initiative to discuss the potential of urban farming throughout urban centers in Michigan, new legislation may be put before the local government as early as next spring concerning urban agriculture. The issue at hand is a question of raising, breeding, and slaughtering livestock in city limits, greatly expanding the definition of urban agriculture. Currently keeping livestock in the city of Detroit is illegal. This has not stopped many from keeping chickens, ducks, and occasionally a few goats. Advocates of urban livestock point out the many advantages of urban agriculture, along with the addition of benefits that only come with keeping animals. Though community gardens have the capacity to produce no small amount of fresh vegetables, as well as providing a community developments space, livestock are able to produce meat, eggs, and milk, all while keeping overgrown abandoned lots trimmed through grazing. Opponents to the idea of keeping animals in the city cite concerns about health and safety of the public as well as the animals. With empty lots often strewn with litter, broken glass, or building ruins, some have concerns that animals will be in danger. Addressing the concerns of both sides of the issue was the task of an urban livestock working group set up in 2014. The 20-member urban livestock working group was formed specifically to discuss the possibility to allowing livestock in urban centers around Michigan. Cities such as Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti already allow limited livestock, and were used as examples by the group. Made up of state and local government representatives, farmers, environmentalists, and veterinarians, the group looked at economic, health and welfare, and land use issues. One of the pressing concerns of all sides of the discussion was the care of the animals. With many urbanites not familiar with raising and caring for animals, the future legislation is planned to have considerations for ensuring that animals are not neglected or mistreated. The legislation will also most likely set limits on the types and numbers of animals allowed. The large number of empty lots in Detroit, as well as in other post-industrial cities, have long been a discussion for urban planners hoping to revitalize blighted neighborhoods. With new ideas of how cities can define themselves through local production and self-sufficiency, many feel urban agriculture is a logical solution. And many also believe there is nowhere better than Detroit, a city built on production innovation, to experiment with an ancient occupation in new ways.
According to the American Public Transportation Association, a public transit advocacy group, there are more than 90 cities in the United States that are actively considering implementing streetcar systems. Of those 90, over a quarter are in the Midwest. Though all in different stages of planning, development, and construction, a handful are well underway, with service beginning as early as 2016. Kansas City and Cincinnati are both in the process of live testing their newly manufactured cars, while Milwaukee debates expanding its current plans. Though hundreds of cities across the country once had streetcars, by the 1960s most had been dismantled with the rise of the private automobile and public bus systems. The current renaissance of streetcar construction is often attributed to cities interested in bolstering downtown transit options, and encouraging more ecologically sustainable modes of transportation. Downtown Kansas City, Missouri, may be the first of the new Midwest streetcar lines to open in early 2016. Dubbed the RideKC Streetcar, the light blue electric trolleys will services a 2.2-mile street along Main St. The system will have four cars running between 16 stops for 18 hours a day. Similarly to streetcars of the past, electricity will be drawn from overhead wires. Unlike past services, the new cars will be wi-fi enabled and free to ride. This first leg of construction is being positioned as a first step in a much larger plan to link the entire Kansas City region with multi-model integrated transit system. Detroit’s new streetcar system will be unique in that it was masterminded by a private non-profit organization. The M-1 Rail, to open by 2017, draws on the economic power of small and large businesses along its route, philanthropic institutions, and a close tie with city government to realize a complex funding and administrative system for the public-private venture. At one point the project was envisioned to expand to a 9 mile route, with more involvement from regional transit partnerships. After multiple feasibility studies it was found that, for economic reason, the 3.3 mile current route was more viable, with possibilities of expansion in the near future. The path to building streetcar systems is often far from smooth. With resistance from state and local governments, it took Cincinnati voters electing new city councilors and rejecting multiple anti-rail ballot initiatives to realize their new transit system. With discussions starting in earnest in 2007 and construction starting in 2012, it will be nine years in the coming when the system finally opens in September 2016. The 3.6 mile loop will service the Over the Rhine neighborhood and the downtown, highlighting the original intent of the system to encourage development in both districts. The Over the Rhine neighborhood, a member of the National Register of Historic Places, has been experiencing a renaissance in the last 10 years, after decades of struggles with crime and declining population. In the case of Milwaukee’s streetcar project, set to open in 2018, the resistance has not been coming from the government as much as from a small group of vocal opponents, who have taken issue with the $124 million project. Though, with a recent failure of a petition to stop further expansion of the already approved first leg of the system, the opposition seems to have dried up. The majority of the funding for the Milwaukee Streetcar is coming from U.S. Department of Transportation grants and Tax Incremental Financing (TIF) Districts. The city and the federal government are betting on the street car to relieve vehicle congestion and pollution while raising property values along the route. Anticipating the rail’s impact on downtown Milwaukee, a 44-story residential tower by local architects Rinka Chung is planned to begin construction in 2016. The base of the project will integrate a streetcar stop along with shopping and office programs. Though it may have been 50 years since many U.S. cities have had street cars, the next five years will see large moves to reverse that situation. Along with KC, Cincinnati, Milwaukee, Detroit, St. Louis, MO, and St.Paul, MN, are making moves to implement their own streetcar systems. With the rise of the suburbs and automobile travel often being blamed for the decline of the streetcar, it would seem that this new trend might be pointing towards yet another indicator of the tendencies of contemporary city dwellers. A greater environmental consciousness, neighborhood investment, and a shifted understanding of economic stability, define the values of a young population that streetcar systems across the Midwest, and the entire country, hope to leverage into success.
Detroit has begun the search for planners to envision new development along its East Riverfront of the Detroit River. Penned by the Detroit RiverFront Conservancy (DRFC) and the City of Detroit Planning and Development Department, a request for qualifications is now open until December 4th. The DRFC and the City are looking for multidisciplinary teams with experience in public/private partnerships, completed work of similar scope and scale, as well as an understanding of the immediate context. The ultimate goal of the City and the DRFC is to develop a district plan to stimulate mixed-use development by re-connecting the city to the river. With a growing density of residence in the downtown, public access to the river and new recreational space are a high priority for the nearly 400 acres to be developed. Recent success of the Detroit RiverWalk, as well as riverwalks in other urban centers, has helped to refocus city attention on downtown river areas. Along with economic benefits, ecological improvements are major part of the city’s redevelopment. The new plan will include improved public transit and bicycle access, as well as wetland areas and storm water retention infrastructure. The plan, to be implemented immediately, will comprise of outlines of Community Engagement, Land Use, Infrastructure, Market Assessment, and Stakeholder Engagement. The comprehensive nature of the plan will hope to address the growing needs of the downtown area that has recently seen a resurgence of interest from young residence. Despite past hardships, Detroit’s downtown has a 98 percent housing occupancy rate. With the increase in demand for housing has come an increase in demand for amenities. Along with the proposed developments, three miles of the river front have already been improved, and a planned bike share program may be launched as early as spring 2016. Restaurants, jobs, and cultural attractions have also added to the downtown's revitalization. This includes the $300 million renovation of the river front Cobo Convention Center. The deadline for the RFQ is December 4th, with interviews of shortlisted teams taking place before January 14th. The winning team will have 120 days starting in March 2016 to produce the report, working with the community and civic stakeholders.
Detroit will soon be joining the over 70 other U.S. cities with bike share programs. The 350-bike, 35-station system is on track to open in 2016, with recent monetary support from public and private sources. The Henry Ford Health System/Health Alliance Plan has agreed to three years of support with an undisclosed amount to help with the estimated $1 million annual operating cost. An additional $1 million has been awarded to the program by the Federal Highway Administration's Transportation Alternative Program Awards, offsetting a large portion of the $2 million startup costs. Despite its moniker as the Motor City, Detroit has had the fastest-growing bike ridership in the country over the last 15 years. Compiling data from the American Community Survey, the American League of Bicyclists found that Detroit’s bike ridership has grown by 403 percent since the year 2000. At the same time another study coordinated by Wayne State University investigated the feasibility of a bike share program in Detroit. That study, conducted in 2013, also presented an optimistic outlook on a bike share program, noting, “In particular [a bike share program] offers a means to strengthen connections between neighborhoods, complement existing and future transit services, serve as an amenity to both residents and visitors, and support the revitalization of Detroit.” That same study outlined a possible phased implementation as well as economic/administrative model for the program. It is from these suggestions that the city has settled on the 35 station initial launch, as well as its public/private funding of the system. The next steps will be to find a vendor and operator, which the report suggests should be a non-profit organization specifically set up for the program. Luckily for Detroit, there are now many precedents to follow in launching a bike share system. Cities like Philadelphia are providing models on which to base successful programs in cities historically dominated by car travel.
The Detroit Design Festival returns this year with 30 events and exhibits put together with contributions from dozens of architects and designers. The festival, which runs September 22–26, kicks off with “industry day,” featuring 3D printing demonstrations and a lecture by Stephen Hobbs titled “Defensive Architecture.” You can view a full schedule of the events here.
“Detroit is not having a renaissance,” philanthropist Gary Wasserman proclaimed in the Bushwick, Brooklyn studio space of painter Markus Linnenbruck, “It is an entirely new expression of urbanism.” With the sun pouring in through large, iron-frame windows, he introduced the concept for his new Detroit arts venue. Cities, he says, are “the 21st century frontier,” not the West or Space. “Detroit is not the only city to fail, but it is the biggest,” he said, noting that the city was once over 2 million people, but is now down to 600,000 or so. This has left massive amounts of transportation infrastructure, cultural infrastructure, and housing redundant and abandoned. In this landscape, the city needs more places to sustain urban activity. Wasserman wants to create “a destination providing something of interest that becomes another thread in the urban fabric,” he explained. Wasserman Projects will be located in an old 5,000 square-foot fire station in Detroit’s Eastern Market district and will open on September 25th during the Detroit Design Festival. The new arts hub is expected to spur artistic interaction and development. The space will grow to 9,000 square-feet in the coming months, and will eventually include a kunsthalle, chamber concert hall, a gallery, an artist’s residency, a studio space, and a permanent installation of The Cosmopolitan Chicken Project, which is the work of Belgian artist Koen Vanmechlen. He breeds national symbolic chickens as a metaphor for human diversity. The opening exhibition will be a collection of paintings by Linnenbruck, shown in a pavilion designed by Miami architect Nick Gelpi. The pavilion is a large wooden structure that splits open to reveal a glossy, colorful interior painted by Linnenbruck. The two halves become an acoustic space for performance.
Dan Gilbert, billionaire founder of Quicken Loans and champion of downtown Detroit commercial real estate, last week announced he will buy the long-vacant 38-story Book Tower skyscraper and two other adjacent buildings on Washington Boulevard. The latest in a series of acquisitions for Gilbert sizable portfolio under Bedrock Real Estate Services, the buildings will cost about $30 million total, to be paid to Vancouver-based AKNO Properties. That's for the 1926 Book Tower, the 13-story Book Building and an adjacent 2-story community center. Read our Q+A with Gilbert’s real estate partner Jim Ketai here. The Detroit Free Press quoted Gilbert as saying he's planning "a game-changing, mixed-use development.” The tower and the Book Building have been vacant since 2009, and renovations are expected to cost more than $100 million.