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People walk and bike in an open space outside the marble Detroit Institute of Arts
Rendering of Detroit Square
Agence Ter

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Design team selected to reshape Detroit’s cultural center

The ambitious plan could cost up to $85 million and take 10 years to complete

Nearly a year ago, three finalists were chosen to redesign the 83-acre cultural campus that contains the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA), the Detroit Public Library (DPL), the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, and other institutions. Today, a winner was announced.

The team—which has collaborators from France, Detroit, and Ann Arbor—consists of Agence Ter, Akoaki, rootoftwo, and Harley Etienne. The winning design, called Detroit Square, will attempt to reshape the cultural center to make it a welcoming destination with accessible connections between each of the 12 institutions, and establish the look and function of the district for decades to come.

“The team brought international sensibility steeped in local knowledge,” Maurice Cox, director of Planning and Development Department for the city of Detroit, said at a June 10 press conference at the DPL. “That’s what distinguished this team from the others.”

At the press conference, members of the winning team gave an overview of their framework. “Detroit Square is about using design to unify,” said Olivier Philippe, co-founder and principal of Paris-based Agence Ter.

There will be an east-west green space (“The Band”) connecting the district from Cass Avenue to Brush Street; two ecological buffers (“The Ecotones”) on the north and south containing vegetation and “seasonal effects”; a promenade (“The Necklace”) that wraps around the district with sculptures to create “pockets of special intimacy”; a stage (“The Transformer”) for artists and others to perform during large events.

Rendering of east-west green space

Certain buildings will get additions to create a “soft entry condition” and blur the line between inside and outside, said Anya Sirota, principal of the Detroit-based studio Akoaki. There could be cafes, canopies, stages, and more.

An underground parking deck is planned on Brush Street. And, pending further study, Woodward Avenue could see a road diet with expanded sidewalks. Other nearby streets are also likely to see streetscaping.

Rendering of a promenade with landscaping

The timeline for implementation is flexible, long-term, and funding dependent. The Detroit News reports that the project could cost between $75 million to $85 million and take as long as 10 years to complete.

Over the next 18 months, the design team will further flesh out the plan through additional community engagement and study.

Rendering of a cafe outside the Charles H. Wright Museum
Rendering of John R Street

The transformation is a significant lift in no small part because of the number of institutions, funders, and stakeholders involved. In addition to the three already mentioned, there’s Wayne State University (which is currently working on its own master plan), College for Creative Studies, Michigan Science Center, Scarab Club, International Institute of Metropolitan Detroit, Midtown Detroit, Inc., and more.

The lead funder for the project is the William Davidson Foundation, with additional support from the Erb Foundation and the Kresge Foundation.

The June 10 announcement concludes a lengthy selection process that began with 44 submissions from 22 cities. That number was whittled down to eight, who presented to judges at a public forum. After three finalists were chosen, their plans were displayed at the DIA, and then the DPL, with the teams gathering and utilizing public feedback along the way.

Overhead view of Detroit Square

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