'The Beach' opens Friday in Detroit skyscraper

Michael H. Hodges
Detroit News Fine Arts Writer
The Beach in a Detroit skyscraper is filled with thousands of anti-microbial plastic spheres that let you float on the surface.

What do you do with underutilized ground-floor space in a cavernous downtown Detroit skyscraper?

In the case of 1001 Woodward at Michigan, you install The Beach, a wacky, architect-designed environment filled with zillions of antimicrobial, white plastic spheres about the size of tennis balls that create the illusion of endlessly churning ocean foam. 

You're going to want to dive right in. 

"You go up a ramp and over a hill," said Benjamin Porto, one of the partners at New York's Snarkitecture that created the concept, "like you're going over a dune and down to the sea."

The sphere-filled "ocean" -- all white, for a cool, monochromatic vibe, and surrounded by mirrors creating an infinite horizon -- is about three feet deep, Porto added, "so it's a lot like jumping into water." 

The Beach, at 1001 Woodward in Detroit, is a free pop-up attraction by New York's Snarkitecture that opens Friday.

Can you float in it? Yes. Can you paddle around in an inflatable pool toy? Yes - and feel free to bring your own. 

"You really can kind of float on top," said Porto. "It’s extremely comfortable. We have a mini version in the office, a mock-up, and people love lounging in it." 

The Beach, supported by Bedrock and the Quicken Loans Community Fund, replaces the Rainbow City Roller Rink, another artist-created pop-up that was also free and open to the public.

The Beach will be open Wednesdays-Sundays, Friday through Apr. 14. 

This will be the project's eighth incarnation. It's had previous successful runs in Sydney, Bangkok, Paris, Tampa and Chicago. Interestingly, The Beach was initially commissioned in 2015 by the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C.

"They just called us," Porto said. "The original ask was to do a maze, but before long we decided no one wants another maze. So we came up with The Beach."

Plans were for a summer installation, he added, so "the pitch was that D.C. is gross and hot in those months, and what would be a fun outside activity to do in the A.C.? And we thought: A day at the beach."

In Detroit, hopefully the opposite magic will be operating -- that the illusion of a sunny day at the sea might banish the March reality outside. 

 As with the Rainbow City Roller Rink, the creative connection was made through the downtown gallery, Library Street Collective, which in coordination with Bedrock has racked up an impressive portfolio of downtown art projects and pop-up installations. The Cranbrook Art Museum will also be involved. 

"We’ve known the people at the Library Street Collective for a while, and have been trying to come up with something to do with them," Porto said. "With projects like this, it takes awhile for the stars to align."

'The Beach' 

Fri. - Apr. 14

Ground floor - 1001 Woodward, Detroit 

Noon-8 p.m. Wed.-Fri; 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Sat; noon-6 p.m. Sun.



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Twitter: @mhodgesartguy