Jun 10

11:00 AM

By Chris Hughes

Tagged: Art Center

Photo: Detroit Square team members (left to right): Jean Louis Farges (Akoaki), Harley Etienne (U-M Taubman College), Anya Sirota, Olivier Phillipe (Agency Ter); John Marshall (U-M Stamps School and Taubman College, rootoftwo); Donald Carpenter (Drummond Carpenter, U-M alum); and Cezanne Charles (rootoftwo, U-M alum). Photo by Daryle Marshke/Michigan Photography.


June 10, 2019 (Detroit) – An international collaborative of designers, including Paris, France-based Agence Ter with Detroit-based Akoaki, rootoftwo, and Harley Etienne are the winners of the DIA Plaza | Midtown Cultural Connections international design competition. Their project, Detroit Square, highlights the importance of shared cultural infrastructure for Detroit’s Cultural Center Planning Initiative, led by Midtown Detroit, Inc. and a steering committee comprised of leaders in the district.

The international design competition was launched in 2017 by Midtown Detroit, Inc. and the Detroit Institute of Arts to align 12 cultural and educational institutions, creating a connected cultural district in Midtown. 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," said Susan Mosey, executive director of Midtown Detroit, Inc.

The Detroit Square project is a daring reimagining of the City of Detroit’s 83-acre anchor cultural district. Unifying landscape, architecture and technology, the Detroit Square design draws upon the strengths of Detroit’s cultural institutions to create a signature destination for the public.

“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,” stated Rip Rapson, President and CEO of the Kresge Foundation.

The initial 44 submissions from more than 10 countries and 22 cities were narrowed down first to eight who presented the ideas to a panel of judges in June 2018. Agence Ter, Akoaki, rootoftwo, and Harley Etienne were one of three urban and landscape design collaborative teams selected by judges as finalists in the competition in June 2018, presenting their proposals to the public at the Detroit Institute of Arts in January 2019 and subsequent exhibition presently on display at the Detroit Public Library Main Branch.

“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. 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,” said juror Maurice Cox, Director of Planning and Development for the City of Detroit.

“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,” said Anya Sirota, Akoaki co-principal. In addition to international design expertise, the team brought in-depth knowledge and understanding of the history and legacy of place. With deep connections in Detroit, the team members presented thoughtful and relevant concepts for the project.

Beginning in July, the team will conduct a topographic 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 to provide their feedback on the design during the 18-month planning period.

An important step in advancing the Cultural Center Planning Initiative, 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,” said Neil Hawkins, President of the Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation; “We are excited to partner on this project.”

The design competition jurors included  Maurice Cox, Director of Planning and Development for the City of Detroit; artist Mario Moore; Cara McCarty, Curatorial Director, Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum; Salvador Salort-Pons, Director, President and CEO, Detroit Institute of Arts; Julie Bargmann, Associate Professor Landscape Design, University of Virginia, Founder & Principal, D.I.R.T. Studio; William Gilchrist, Planning and Building Director, City of Oakland, California; Jonathan Massey, Dean, Taubman School of Architecture and Urban Planning, University of Michigan; JoAnne G. Mondowney, Executive Director, Detroit Public Library; and Richard L. Rogers, President, College for Creative Studies.

“We are inspired by the ambition, collaboration, and level of community engagement that has characterized this effort so far,” said 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 DIA Plaza | Midtown Cultural Connections international design competition was funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, William Davidson Foundation, and the Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation with support from the Boston Consulting Group Detroit Office led by Xavier Mosquet.