Vision of DIA plaza/Midtown cultural campus unveiled

The Detroit Public Library and Detroit Historical Museum along Woodward in Detroit, shown on Jan. 8, 2019, will soon be connected by pedestrian spaces in a cultural campus.

Detroit — Three design teams competing to overhaul the 10 blocks around the Detroit Institute of Arts into a walkable "cultural campus" were told to think big and innovative. On Wednesday, the public got its first chance to decide whether the teams succeeded.    

Renderings of the finalists' plans went on display at the DIA, and the images reveal ideas that go beyond green space and bicycle/pedestrian paths. There are proposals for amphitheaters, a "fog garden," a permanent outdoor DJ booth, an "interactive graffiti wall," an outdoor children's reading area, cafés and a Brush Street hotel.

There's also proposals that would cut the number of vehicular lanes on Woodward Avenue and recommendations to redesign parts of the interiors of the art museum and main public library. 

As expected, the finalists recommend closing some streets east of John R near the Scarab Club and Michigan Science Center. 

The DIA Plaza | Midtown Cultural Connections plan would better connect sites including Wayne State University, the main Detroit Public Library, the Detroit Historical Museum, the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, the College for Creative Studies and the Michigan Science Center

“We want to be a gathering place for everybody,” said Salvador Salort-Pons, DIA director. "We launched this design competition to solicit the best minds in public-space design and didn’t give them any limitations." 

Boston-based Mikyoung Kim Design was the first to present its designs before a panel of jurors in the DIA's Rivera Court. The firm's plan includes creating pavilions throughout the district to provide places for activities, such as ice skating in the winter. 

The gathering spaces would be designed to provide respite for pedestrians during very hot or cold weather. The plan includes a special events pavilion to the north of the DIA and a kids pavilion to the south. Signage and lighting would connect spaces within the district.

"As you cross the threshold of the district, everything around you changes," said landscape architect Mikyoung Kim. "The ground plane, the lighting ..."

Kim said that during her several visits to the area, she noticed little pedestrian traffic along Woodward.

"It's a little sad," she said. "Ours is a platform for activity."   

Minneapolis-based firm TEN x TEN suggested changes for Woodward as part of its design. The firm and its partners propose taking the seven-lane street with narrow crosswalks down to four lanes.

“We spent a lot of time studying and modeling Woodward,” said Maura Rockcastle, co-founder of TEN x TEN, including a couple of weeks studying whether a tunnel would be feasible. “We landed on the biggest road diet Woodward could handle before causing worrisome traffic delays.”

Options to incorporate along Woodward would be large welcome signage, a large topographic lift with views toward downtown, or a forest and path. 

TEN x TEN’s plan also calls for renovating the Farnsworth Street garage to offset parking demands in the near term and transforming the garage into a districtwide renewable energy hub in the long term. Uses could include electric vehicle parking and storm water storage.

TEN x TEN's plan calls for pavilions within the district, including one called the D .tour Lounge with a café and outdoor patio on the DIA’s south lawn. The other would be an events pavilion between the Scarab Club and the College for Creative Studies.

The firm also proposes creating a grand public lawn called the D.tour Forum to the north of the Michigan Science Center.

The third firm to present Wednesday was Agence Ter of Paris and its partners. The team’s design would create a rectangular-shaped public square with lighting inclusive of the district’s 12 institutions.

One of the first steps for the project would be to reduce lanes on Woodward and cut traffic speeds, said Olivier Philippe, one of the founders of Agence Ter. The QLine tracks would not be moved.

John R. would be closed as part of the team's plan and Brush would become a two-way street.

A canopy enclosed in glass at the DIA would create additional space for events. The institution’s cafeteria would move to the southern part of the building. The plan also includes additional parking for the area and the incorporation of technology including a data jockey booth for artists and residents to plug into. 

The presenters from each team fielded questions and comments following their presentations, such as concerns about how the noise from an amphitheater would affect residents of the Park Shelton condominiums next to the DIA and how a redesign might affect rents for students.

Longtime Detroit resident Helen Moore expressed the desire for a project that reflects residents like herself.

“Where is Black Bottom?” Moore said in reference to a predominantly black neighborhood in Detroit demolished in the early 1960s for redevelopment. “Where is it? Where are all the things that have been taken away from us as citizens of the city of Detroit. … I’d like to see a place where my children, my grandchildren and people in Detroit can feel so honored and could be a part of this city again.”

Each team spoke of its community engagement efforts and how, if chosen for the project, they plan to further involve those living and working in the area.

Early cost estimates for the plan are $75 million to $85 million, organizers said, with funding to come from foundations, grants and corporations. No taxpayer funding is being considered, they said.

The three finalist teams include architects, urban designers, academics, artists, community organizers, traffic engineers and conservationists. Each group has some Detroit representation.

Expectations are "pretty high," said Maurice Cox, director of Detroit's Planning and Development Department. He's on the jury that will decide the winning design this spring. 

“You kind of only do this work once in a generation," Cox said. "This is the cultural district’s time to finally give itself a public-space identity. It has a very strong architectural identity ... but it doesn’t have a public place, square." 

The finalists: 
 •Agence Ter, Paris, France. Team partners are Akoaki, Detroit; Harley Etienne, University of Michigan; rootoftwo; University of Michigan and Detroit; Transsolar | KlimaEngineering, Germany.  Additional partners include: Arcadis North America; 8’8” Lumiere; Kiduck Kim Architect; and Drummond Carpenter Engineering & Research.
Mikyoung Kim Design, Boston. Team partners are James Carpenter Design Associates, New York; CDAD, Detroit; WKSHPS, New York; Quinn Evans, Detroit; Giffels Webster, Detroit; Tillett Lighting, New York; Cuseum, Boston; Transsolar | KlimaEngineering, Germany; Schlaich Bergermann & Partners, New York; and Sidewalk Detroit.
TEN x TEN, Minneapolis. Team partners are MASS Design Group, Boston; D MET, Detroit; Atelier Ten, New York; Local Projects, New York; HR&A Advisors, New York; Dr. Craig Wilkins, University of Michigan; and Wade Trim Engineering, Detroit. 

The nonprofit Midtown Detroit Inc. is one of the main drivers of the plan. The redesigned space will help achieve many longtime goals for the area, said Susan Mosey, Midtown executive director. 

The new linked space will encourage collaborations in terms of programming and marketing, Mosey said. The plan will revive an idea known as a Museum Pass — allowing people to pay one price to get access to all of the museums and other centers.

The idea of making the area more of a linked cultural campus has been discussed for more than 60 years, and various attempts have been made in the past, organizers said.

If things go as planned, construction could begin early next decade, Mosey said. That would add to the Detroit developments that many once thought were impossible to achieve.

In 2022, the long-dead Michigan Central Depot is schedule to reopen as Ford Motor Co.'s center for self-driving and electric vehicles. That same year, the empty Hudson block — named after the department store that closed in 1983 — likely will reopen as the site of Michigan's tallest skyscraper. In 2024, the publicly owned Gordie Howe International Bridge may be ready as the new link between the United States and Canada.

Twitter: @LouisAguilar_DN