What initially brought me to the site was the infamous Michigan Central Station (MCS). A building that represents Detroit’s golden age and the demise that followed. It became clear to me that this in fact is a monument. It surpassed its original role in the city and now it is a beacon of what once was and also what can be. But there were also other conditions that made the site alluring. The soon to be abandoned rail lines that intersect multiple neighborhoods challenge the grid and the highways system that was created after the 1968 riots were of great interest to me.
The overly complex highways system is pronounced throughout the city. It is hard to escape the pockets of segregation that it creates. Trying to walk in the city is a challenge b/c it is evident that the city has been designed with the automobile as king.
Challenging this condition is really what interested me throughout the semester. I saw the abandoned rail lines as a real possibility to reconnect neighborhoods such as Mexicantown and thus create long lost interactions. The site was a perfect opportunity for this. Corktown a vibrant and up and coming area is to the north. The disconnected Mexicantown to the south and Downtown to the West.
My project consists of three elements that create a whole. MCS as a monument, the Arena as a modern day forum and the rail lines as a connective device.
Preserving and strengthening MCS as a monument was important movement for me. Instead of trying to retrofit it with a new programme I decided to make a far simpler move. Illuminating the building from within would transform this icon into a real beacon of light during the night. This would in turn draw people to the site and confirm the notion of “we are still here fighting”
A new basketball arena in Detroit was a problematic idea for me from the beginning of the semester mainly because I didn’t see it as something essential for the city. Conducting qualitative research made me realize that professional sports bring people together just like religion. The Kaaba in Mecca became a precedent for my investigation. What interested me in it was the circulation that the pilgrims create around it during the Haaj. This constant movement became fascinating to me. I wanted to implement this in my design and challenge how arenas function. What was most problematic for me in arena design was the stratification that inherently exists in them. You can buy a ticket for $40 and see nothing or buy one for $700 and see too much. I wanted to see if one can create an arena where everyone had the ability to have an equal opportunity of view. Since circulation gives one freedom I created an arena of constant circulatory movement. Its design is simple and based on a double helix. Once you reach the bottom of the arena you start walking upwards again or you can create your own circulation and thus experience.
The idea of creating your own experience through the choice of circulation was a driver for the landscape intervention. I wanted to conceptually integrate the arena into the existing fabric. The current condition of the site is a peculiar one in the context of the city. Essentially it is a raised platform (20’) penetrating the city. It transforms from a single rail line width into an 18 rail line width by the station and then again into a single one. In my intervention I decide to eliminate all the rail lines and concentrate on a non combustion engine transportation thus promoting walking and cycling in a landscaped terrain. I wanted the intervention to become a heterotopias within the city similar to Persian gardens of the past. A space that can be transformed conceptually and literally by the imagination of the user. In order to achieve this it was critical to easily accessible entry and exit points into the site. The NY highline was a precedent I looked at but it was a problematic one because it is a destination and not a viable alternative to the grid of the city. Its overprogramed nature and problematic entry/exit points were drivers behind my design. I wanted the entrances to have a presence in the city and challenge the existing grid. This would make the rail line not only a meeting place but also a transitory place where one can imagine their reality. The vastness of the site especially at MCS provides and adequate space for programme to be created based on the real needs of the resident and not one imposed onto them. My intervention simply provides the framework for what the users imagine.
Location: Detroit, MI, US
My Role: Designer