Design opportunities: U-M students to dissect, ‘rescale’ Detroit (2005)

Originally published 5/11/2005


The University of Michigan has just announced plans for a Detroit Center to be situated on the ground floor of Orchestra Place on Woodward Avenue this coming fall. Though the center will house offices for a number of different U-M departments, including the schools of social work, art and design, and public health, the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning (TCAUP) will play a key role.

Douglas Kelbaugh, dean of the architecture school, says, “[The center] is not a top-down initiative started by the central administration but one spontaneously generated that has wide support among faculty, students and the community.”

“Our college will start a community design workshop and center where faculty, students and staff can provide pro bono or low-cost design and planning help to nonprofit neighborhood groups.”

Stephen Vogel, dean of the school of architecture at University of Detroit Mercy, is delighted by the news. “Detroit can use all of the creative ideas and community partners it can muster. It is through these community partnerships that Detroit will eventually regain the ground it has lost.”

For years, in architectural studio classes and competitive design workshops, students and staff at the Taubman College have been dissecting, reimagining and planning Detroit. In a recently completed fall 2004 studio, co-taught by international guest lecturers Adrian Blackwell and Yung Ho Chang, 16 students took on the challenge of “rescaling” Detroit.

According to Blackwell, the goal of the studio was to examine the fragmented Detroit landscape and push students to interweave solid empirical data with sometimes fantastic and culturally gripping ideas about what urban space could and might do in the 21st century.

In one project, grad student Brian Buchalski designed a pavilion on John R at Woodward Avenue, bridging Oslo and Candy Bar, two nightclubs with separate communities of patrons, and reinventing the area for radical diversity and musical possibilities.

But student experiences were limited by their geographic isolation in Ann Arbor. Journeys to Detroit were quick and infrequent, and technologies, like satellite images, took the place of community outreach. Buchalski would love to see the Taubman College move its U-M campus downtown. He says: “Can you imagine all those students living downtown?” At least with the opening of the Detroit Center, there will be studio lights on at 5 a.m. on Woodward Avenue. Perhaps this will stir the imagination of both student and citizen.