Celebrate Michigan: We've picked the best pictures from Week 1

Visions of 3 design contest winners to come to life in Detroit

Maureen Feighan
The Detroit News
Other Works' Garden Novella will feature sun-powered lanterns, hanging gardens, seating, and recorded stories to "create interactive place and connection to the cultural network, relating virtual space to geography," according to Design Core Detroit. It will be installed in the Southwest Detroit next spring.

Imagine a space in Detroit where uniquely shaped modules could be pieced together like a Rubik’s cube, creating room for neighbors to lounge, chat or even take a nap. At night, the modules would light up.

Envision another spot with hand-powered cranks and stationary bikes that could power LED lights, Bluetooth speakers or USB charging stations. Or a place with sun-powered lanterns and recorded stories that would connect a neighborhood’s past with its future.

All three of these visions will come to life as part of the Detroit Design Core’s first ever Detroit City of Design Competition. Launched earlier this year, the contest asked design firms from UNESCO-designated cities all over the world to come up with design solutions for the city’s neighborhoods that address safety and walkability.

SmithGroup's proposal, "Cyclerate," includes hand-powered cranks and stationery bike generators. Next spring, it'll be placed in Detroit's Hope Village Neighborhood.

“Each of the winning designs will become beacons for the community in their own way,” said Olga Stella, executive director of Design Core Detroit, an organization that supports design services in the city and oversaw the contest.

All told, 26 proposals were submitted from as far as Montreal to Turin, Italy. A jury selected the three winners from nine finalists.

Prototypes of the three winning designs will be built this summer. They’ll debut in September at Beacon Park during Detroit’s Month of Design, which is put on by Design Core Detroit.

"3Rooms" by Collectif Escargo features modules that light up and can configured in various ways to bring people together.

And in April 2020, these prototypes will really be put to the test. They will each be moved to three Detroit neighborhoods — Grandmont Rosedale, Southwest Detroit and Hope Village — for three to six months to let residents interact with them.

Two of the winning designs are by Detroit-based firms — Other Work and SmithGroup. SmithGroup has offices all over the world but its winning proposal came from its Detroit office. The third winning installation is by a Montreal-based firm, Collectif Escargo.

Escargo’s proposal, called “3Rooms,” will be placed in the Grandmont Rosedale neighborhood at the corner of Grand River and Puritan. It’s “linked to the world of a house,” its proposal says. The installation will include a set of easily adaptable “modules” made from steel tubes covered with wooden slates that can easily be changed and configured in different ways.

At night, “each module lights up in the evening with a soft glow, like a fireplace in the middle of the neighborhood,” its proposal states. 

“3Rooms is a safe cocoon inviting for improvised gatherings,” it says. “Like a poetic metaphor of the surrounding houses, it is merry, bright, colorful and full of life.”

SmithGroup’s prototype, “Cyclerate,” meanwhile, will be placed in Detroit’s Hope Village at the southwest corner of Dexter and Chalfonte. Derived from the words “cycle” and “accelerate,” it features an open structure with hand-powered cranks and stationary bikes mounted to the floor that can be used to generate power to a wall-mounted display panel along with LED lighting, Bluetooth speakers and USB power charging stations.

The display panel will feature graphics about how power is generated “to incite curiosity, inspire creativity and promote future sustainable design initiatives through demonstration and play,” according to its proposal.

The last installation, Garden Novella by Other Work, will be installed at the northwest corner of Vernor and Clark Street in southwest Detroit. It will have sun-powered lanterns, hanging gardens, seating and recorded stories, which will combine “to create an interactive environment.”

The prototype “is a platform to express cultural, collective, and individual identity, weaving together stories from southwest residents,” said Other Work’s proposal. 

Each winner was given $20,000, funded by a grant from the Knight Foundation, for the design and implementation of their prototype.

Stella said residents in the three neighborhoods where these installations will be placed next spring are already talking about how they can be used.

“The response so far has been very positive, and we think it will only grow once residents see the finished prototypes this September and then installed in their community,” Stella said. “We’ve already heard from community members interested in supporting programming related to the designs once installed in their community.”