How would you redesign Detroit's riverfront?

Posted on December 3, 2012

In the latest illustration of the world’s interest in Detroit’s reinvention, an architectural competition called to reimagine the city’s riverfront has drawn hundreds of entries from as far away as Tunisia, Taiwan and Turkey.

The competition, called Detroit by Design 2012, is organized by the Urban Priorities Committee of AIA Detroit, the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects. Sponsors include the Detroit Shoppe, the Detroit Institute of Arts and Quicken Loans.

A competition jury will convene Tuesday and Wednesday in Detroit. Jurors will select the winners by the end of the day Wednesday and announce their selections then.

Unofficial and not sanctioned by the city itself, the competition hopes to generate new visions or concepts for waterfront design that may prove useful in Detroit.

There are no plans to actually build one of the winning entries. Instead, the idea of the contest is to broaden the public conversation about the possibilities as Detroit decides what to do with its waterfront district.

Entrants are free to suggest any possible use for the riverfront, including skyscrapers, parks, wetlands, adventure courses, water features, floating projects that reach into the river, and much more.

Bob Piatek, an architect and one of the organizers of the competition, said the aim is to throw out preconceived notions of what Detroit is or what it should be and to challenge people to think creatively about what is possible. Organizers hope to create a dialogue and to inspire residents, community organizations and lawmakers.

So far, the interest has been overwhelming. More than 400 people or organizations paid $100 each to enter.

Piatek said the organizers always intended the contest to be open worldwide, and advertised in architectural magazines and to universities. But, he said, “We had no idea it would be this big and the response would be like this.”

He added, “We’re going to have 400 submittals. They range from all over the place, private citizens, architectural firms, individual architects, planners, artists. We even had a call from a mom who has a 14-year-old boy from Peru who wants to enter it.”

In recent years, numerous visitors have come to Detroit to study the city’s responses to urban plight. These include documentary filmmakers, urban planners, academics, journalists, artists and the just curious.

“I think the world’s eyes are looking at Detroit,” Piatek said. “Detroit is the test case for urban centers because we have the biggest issues.”

Faye Alexander Nelson, president and CEO of the Detroit RiverFront Conservancy, which builds and operates the Detroit RiverWalk, said she welcomed the new ideas.

“We’ve got lots of waterfront to develop,” she said. “I welcome the opportunity to embrace new ideas as we continue our development effort.”

And the contest, she added, is “a great opportunity for some very positive exposure about the city and, more specifically, our riverfront.”

On Tuesday, a free public symposium on the future of the riverfront will be held at 6:30 p.m. in the Kresge Court of the DIA. The competition jurors will engage in a panel discussion about the riverfront; many of the entries will be available for public viewing.

Nelson is one of the five jurors. The jury also includes world-renowned architect Daniel Libeskind, best known for his work creating the master plan for rebuilding Ground Zero, the World Trade Center site in New York.

Also on the jury are Reed Kroloff, director of the Cranbrook Academy of Art and Museum in Bloomfield Hills; designer Walter Hood of Oakland, Calif.-based Hood Studio, and Lola Sheppard, a Toronto-based architect and educator.

The winning entry will receive $5,000. Second- and third-place winners will receive $2,500 and $1,000, respectively.

John Gallagher, Detroit Free Press