October 24, 2015
A global spotlight will shine on ideas for repurposing four Detroit sites in an exhibit at the 2016 Architecture Biennale in Venice, Italy, next spring.
The exhibition — called “The Architectural Imagination” — will feature the Packard Plant, the Dequindre Cut, the downtown U.S. Post Office building, and a vacant Detroit Public Works Department yard at Vernor Highway and Livernois Avenue in southwest Detroit.
The University of Michigan‘s Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning applied to and was chosen by the U.S. State Department to represent the U.S. at the 2016 exhibition, which runs May 28-Nov. 27.
Beyond cachet for Detroit, the event promises creative designs for public spaces and may raise interest from architects and investors.
Since summer, 12 architectural firms from throughout the country have been quietly meeting with community, government and business leaders in city churches and offices to gather information about the sites. Now they are at the drawing board creating plans for what these sites could be. What they produce will be exhibited in four rooms at the prestigious Venice exhibition.
The sites and architects were chosen by a Detroit advisory board and two curators — Monica Ponce de Leon, dean of the Taubman College and founding principal of MPdL Studio in Ann Arbor; and Cynthia Davidson, executive director of New York City nonprofit Anyone Corp.
“It is very prestigious, but also puts UM (and Detroit) in the center of the conversation about architecture and 21st century cities,” Ponce de Leon said.
In the summer, Ponce de Leon, Davidson and the board came up with 20 Detroit sites, gradually reducing them to four.
Ponce de Leon said they wanted to be sure to choose sites that would have global interest. “Detroit can help create models that can be helpful to cities worldwide,” she said.
More than 250 architectural firms submitted portfolios to work on the project. “We reviewed these carefully to ensure diversity and multiple points of view,” Ponce de Leon said. From there, they narrowed it to 12 firms, two of which are in Michigan.
V. Mitch McEwen and Marcelo Lopez-Dinardi of A(n) Office in Detroit and New York is one of the firms. An assistant professor at the Taubman College, McEwen also works out of a space in TechTown.
Lopez-Dinardi and McEwen were assigned the DPW yard.
“It’s not just architecture we are tasked with but the activities that could happen there,” McEwen said. “It’s a daunting exercise, but I’m hoping the design … can be useful for conversations moving forward.”
Thom Moran of T+E+A+M in Ann Arbor and his three partners were given the Packard Plant for their assignment. “Our ambition is to trade a new image that helps people imagine Detroit architecture not as ruins, but as material resources for building a new future,” Moran said.
Moran said the plant was “cutting-edge at the time it was built — a testing ground for using reinforced concrete.” Now, he said, the architects would like to use some of the materials on site to “translate them into a new way to do construction.”
Each Detroit site will have a room in the exhibition, which will consist of 3-D models and drawings and video animation.
“Detroit has captured the imagination of a lot of folks,” said Mark Wallace, president and CEO of the Detroit RiverFront Conservancy and a member of the exhibition’s Detroit Advisory Board.
Other board members include Maurice Cox, Detroit planning director; Dan Kinkead, acting executive director of Detroit Future City; Thomas Sherry, principal of 313Creative; and Lawrence Williamson, real estate manager for Midtown Detroit Inc.
Marti Benedetti, October 24, 2015. CRAIN’S DETROIT BUSINESS