Winner Selected in DIA Plaza | Midtown Cultural Connections Design Contest to Transform Detroit’s Cultural District

France’s Agence Ter and Detroit’s Akoaki and rootoftwo, as well as Harley Etienne of the University of Michigan’s Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, have been selected as winners of the DIA Plaza | Midtown Cultural Connections international design competition. Their project, Detroit Square, will transform Detroit’s 83-acre anchor cultural district.
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Design DIA Plaza | Midtown Cultural Connections rendering
Agence Ter, Akoaki, rootoftwo, and Harley Etienne make up the winning design team for the Design DIA Plaza | Midtown Cultural Connections project. // Rendering courtesy of Midtown Detroit Inc. and the Detroit Institute of Arts

France’s Agence Ter and Detroit’s Akoaki and rootoftwo, as well as Harley Etienne of the University of Michigan’s Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, have been selected as winners of the DIA Plaza | Midtown Cultural Connections international design competition. Their project, Detroit Square, will transform Detroit’s 83-acre anchor cultural district.

The competition was launched in 2017 by Midtown Detroit Inc. and the Detroit Institute of Arts to align 12 cultural and educational institutions to create a connected cultural district in Midtown.

“Twelve cultural institutions are working together to create a cohesive public realm for the visitor to experience the unique expression of each institution, bringing the inside out,” says Maurice Cox, competition juror and director of planning and development for the city of Detroit. “Led by a world-class design team that mixes local knowledge with international reach, we are positioned to create a series of inclusive public spaces where all residents feel welcomed and one of our country’s largest collection of cultural institutions are celebrated in a single walkable district.”

The other stakeholder institutions include the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, College for Creative Studies, Detroit Historical Society, Detroit Public Library, Hellenic Museum of Michigan, International Institute of Metropolitan Detroit, Michigan Science Center, The Scarab Club, University of Michigan, and Wayne State University.

“The Cultural Center Planning Initiative is an opportunity for Midtown Detroit to leverage its arts and cultural assets in a greater way. By developing a more sustainable physical environment and coordinating programmatic opportunities, we will be able to serve a much broader set of residents, artists, and visitors,” says Susan Mosey, executive director of Midtown Detroit, Inc.

The Detroit Square design incorporates landscape, architecture, and technology.

“Detroit not only occupies a special place in America’s cultural and artistic landscape, but also globally. This city deserves a cultural center that brings Detroit’s music, art, food, poetry elements together so that Detroiters and visitors alike can experience and enjoy our creative talent and unique culture,” says Rip Rapson, president and CEO of the Kresge Foundation.

An initial 44 submissions from more than 10 countries and 22 cities were narrowed down to eight. These designs were presented to a panel of judges in June 2018. The chosen team was one of three urban and landscape design collaborative teams selected by judges as finalists in the competition. The finalists presented their proposals to the public at the DIA in January and subsequent exhibition presently on display at the Detroit Public Library Main Branch.

“The goals for the project are to amplify the successful programs and activities that are already on site, produce shared assets, and create animated spaces for social encounter,” says Anya Sirota, co-principal of Akoaki.

The team will conduct a topographical survey, tree survey, mobility study, parking study, stormwater management survey, lighting survey, and more. An ongoing series of tours, workshops, and other hands-on opportunities will be open to the public so community members can provide their feedback on the design during the 18-month planning period.

The development of a conceptual plan framework is funded by the William Davidson Foundation, The Kresge Foundation, and the Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation. Through its support, the William Davidson Foundation is providing just over half of the anticipated cost for conceptual planning. Fundraising for the remaining project cost will be ongoing.

“This is a generational opportunity to unify the cultural district in a truly triple bottom-line fashion: one that creates physical connections between the organizations in the district, equitably engages residents, provides opportunities for local businesses, manages stormwater, generates new or increased revenue streams for the museums, improves walkability, and adds to the beauty of the area,” says Neil Hawkins, president of the Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation.

The design competition jurors included Cox; artist Mario Moore; Cara McCarty, curatorial director of Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum; Salvador Salort-Pons, director, president, and CEO of the Detroit Institute of Arts; Julie Bargmann, associate professor of landscape design at the University of Virginia and founder and principal of D.I.R.T. Studio; William Gilchrist, planning and building director of the city of Oakland, California; Jonathan Massey, dean of the Taubman School of Architecture and Urban Planning at the University of Michigan; JoAnne G. Mondowney, executive director of the Detroit Public Library; and Richard L. Rogers, president of College for Creative Studies.

“We are inspired by the ambition, collaboration, and level of community engagement that has characterized this effort so far,” says Darin McKeever, president and CEO of the William Davidson Foundation. “We’re also excited for the design team’s work to begin and for the continued dialogue with all of our current and future partners on this transformational project.”

The competition was funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, the William Davidson Foundation, and the Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation with support from the Boston Consulting Group Detroit Office.

Midtown Detroit Inc. is a nonprofit planning and development agency charged with revitalization of Detroit’s Woodward Corridor. It represents more than 100 area stakeholders.

Agence Ter are landscape architects and urban designers based in Paris, France and Karlsruhe, Germany. It also has offices in Los Angeles, Barcelona, and Shanghai.

Akoaki is an architecture and design firm that was founded in 2008.

rootoftwo works to make hybrid design project that explore the consequences of technology at the city-scale.

Harley Etienne is an author, researcher, consultant, and teacher with experience in how social, cultural, and political contexts intersect with pubic institutions to facilitate urban neighborhood change.

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