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Project Detroit: A living laboratory for a city of the future

May 2, 2016
By Renée Dunk

Experimental Public Space Installations as Events of Urban Reinvigoration

NOTE: don't miss the gallery of images, below!

Students from design professor Carmela Cucuzella’s Project Detroit: A living laboratory for a city of the future class made a trip last month to Motor City where they presented the public space interventions they designed to Detroit architects, urban planners and social activists dedicated to reinvigorating the city.

Within the framework of the Detroit Future City (DFC) initiative, each student was asked to define a theme for a design project by testing a variety of hypotheses in the experimental context of the city of Detroit. Students were challenged to create an environment for urban reinvigoration, with the ultimate goal of their public site becoming a magnet for municipal citizens.

During the course, students looked at vacant public spaces as infrastructure for recreation, for communication, for living and for commerce. Using approaches focused on durability (long-living installations), ephemerality (short-lived events), compositions of forms (seating, walking, facades and interfaces) and compositions of relations (social programs, gatherings and projects), each design explored contemporary questions and issues about living in the urban space.

According to Cucuzzella, the trip was an exciting pedagogical experience for the students, intended to deepen their research and reflective approach to design specifically in recognizing the importance for a profound comprehension of the historical, cultural, and social context of the urban spaces they intervene.

“This is the second time I've made this trek to Detroit with the students from my DART448 studio," she said. "Just as it was least year, it is an eye opening experience for the students since they are faced with an urban situation that is in dire need of this type of design intervention. When we arrive in Detroit and tour all the selected sites for design interventions by the students, they immediately realize the importance of their roles as designers is to society.”

While in Detroit, students had the opportunity to meet and consult with Dan Kinkead, DFC executive director, as well as exchange ideas about their projects with students from the University’s of Michigan’s School of Architecture, who also worked on a similar problematic.

Michael Maclean, a student in the course, said that the course was a great learning experience and has opened up his mind to a world of possibilities: "I have gotten a lot out of both the project as well as the experience in Detroit. There are lots of gears turning now [about] the urban/rural feel and just the creative nature of the city. I'm now thinking about how I may be able to work on more project there in the future.

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