Satirical Competition Entry Banned from High-Profile Public Display in Detroit

It's satire, but its raising an interesting debate. Thoughts?

Original post here:

Jul 30, 13 8:02 pm

I suck at dramatic renderings and propagandic babble! No wonder I don't do architecture anymore!!

Jul 30, 13 9:04 pm

brilliant, although it'd resonate more with a signature of a real person, and not the cowards way out, but then again, fuck em.

Jul 30, 13 9:21 pm

Well done.  This should be entered in every competition.

Jul 30, 13 11:28 pm
I loved that read, but...

I got to work with a group of great people developing a fun idea (plasma gasification plant, inspired by a study by Arup and European policies). While it looked good, our work was so diagrammatic, there was hardly anything of BUILDABLE value. A client that has been through the construction process would understand this. Close examination may have poked holes in every assumption we made and the logic we followed.

But if you were to be picked, why not recap your proposal time with the contract. But what the hell do I know.
Jul 31, 13 7:49 am

Not much.

Jul 31, 13 7:54 am

I only just now clicked through to the full article, which contains the text on the board in addition to the images:


An Open Letter to Opportunity Detroit from a Majority Owner of an Architectural Firm

Dear Mr. Gilbert,

There is no question the Hudson’s site is a unique architectural opportunity thick with the prospects of becoming Detroit’s next iconic downtown building. I hope you do not view this entry as an act of cynicism regarding this opportunity, or that I am a non-believer in a stronger Detroit. On the contrary, I like many am spurred on by the kinds of interests you have taken in making Detroit’s downtown safer and more pleasant. So, in these regards, kudos. Keep doing this.

What I am concerned about is your respect for design as a commodity. You’re a businessman. You understand the importance of retaining the value of the services or products you offer. This is how you survive a fluctuating market and how you grow as a business. The success of a business, as you know, is based largely on the value of your product and a market that is willing to pay for it. I mean, this is Econ 101 kind of stuff, right?

Design is my product. It is how I am surviving in this comeback economy, and it is the root of my growing business. I do not question the value of my product, but the willingness for the market to pay for it, as aided by these kinds of design competitions, is diminishing.

This is an ideas-only competition without promise of work. What kind of shit do you think people will turn in? I’ll tell you, it won’t be good shit. It won’t be based off of an intricate understanding of the site, or the culture of the place, or the historic significance of Hudson’s. Hell, most of what you’ll get won’t really even be architecture, but rather attention-grabbing images that are rendered in such a way that the truly important details are never considered. I don’t see how my entry is much different.

On average, an architect will spend 100+ hours on each competition piece. For the typical working professional, this is a substantial amount of time added to his/her likely 60+ hr/wk workload. For what? There will be hundreds of entries. The jurors might spend 20 seconds on each one (none of them will likely read this). The likelihood of being selected for a prize or receiving recognition of any kind is extremely low, so why do we continue to offer up our ideas – our only valuable trade item! – to be held as intellectual property by whoever decided to host a competition.

I’m not sure how we got to this point in architecture, but I for one would prefer a different future.

Mr. Gilbert, you hold a highly esteemed, historically selective role as architectural patron. You are a high profile example that my clients will look to in order to determine what the architect-client relationship should be. When you undervalue my design commodity, so too will my clients. You say you are for a stronger Detroit, but part of that is to ensuring the value of the creative industry is sustained. To me and the people in my industry, Detroit’s opportunity lies solely in that.

I wish you the best in the future development of the Hudson’s site, as well as with your other downtown buildings, but I want to make one statement to you in this letter:


You can take that to the bank.


Anonymous Architect

It also needs to be noted that the letter format follows exactly the format that Dan Gilbert used in his own open letter.

So it's a pretty good bit of public protest satire, IMO.  But I agree with beta that it would have been better had this architect entered it without hiding behind anonymity.  And, to me, the poop references infantilize the whole endeavor.  

Jul 31, 13 8:04 am
Points for speaking Danny G's language?...
Jul 31, 13 8:09 am


Jul 31, 13 8:19 am

All entries to this competition were required to remain anonymous until after judging. It was an "ideas only" competition with no promise of work. 

Jul 31, 13 11:25 am

Ah, thanks for the clarification re: anonymity.  Perhaps a letter to the editor would have had a greater impact. but I still like the protest act.

Jul 31, 13 11:44 am

Donna, what editor?

Jul 31, 13 11:48 am

Of the local newspaper.  A guest Editorial piece would be even better.

Here in Indy we had an ideas competition for redeveloping our downtown Circle.  The team that won, an architecture firm, used a widely published image of a "green" skyscraper that they had not designed as an example of how we as a City should improve the quality and potential of our building stock.  The result was a *huge* kerfluffle that played out in the local newspaper and on blogs about whether the winning team should win when they were "plagiarizing" someone else's work (IMO the charge of plagiarism didn't hold up at all). The winning team ended up donating their prize money to the local downtown development non-profit.

The positive side to it was: the whole community paid more attention to the ideas competition than they would have if the controversy had never occurred.

Jul 31, 13 12:10 pm

Plagiarism is more palatable than protest. Media circuits in Detroit are pretty pro-Gilbert, or at least steer clear of ruffling his camp's feathers. No editor or columnist will touch this with a 10-foot pole, not even the snarkiest of the bunch.

Jul 31, 13 12:14 pm

I suppose this is in fact the interest behind the piece. Not necessarily for the content, but in its revealing of the status or role of protest (or lack thereof) in the public discourse. Outside of these little forums what other options do we have to have a voice of protest?

Jul 31, 13 12:16 pm

Orbit would have.  RIP Orbit.

Jul 31, 13 12:18 pm

Letter to the editor? Does anybody younger than 70 even read newspapers anymore?

Jul 31, 13 12:22 pm
That could have been an effective protest if it was more insidious. The entry was so literal which absolutely adds to it's humor and the volume of its message, but if you know the system you're working in, you have to be way more focused in knowing how to get your message in under everyone's noses.
Jul 31, 13 12:25 pm

This could be an interesting Op-ed on Archinect.

Jul 31, 13 12:35 pm
What about Gils buying half of downtown. No ones questioned that yet? Another op-Ed? Piggyback?
Jul 31, 13 1:25 pm

gwharton, in my town letters to the editor are ground zero for a subsequent cropping up of discussion on FB, blogs, etc. as are articles in alt weekly papers.

Jul 31, 13 2:30 pm

Interesting. I don't know a single person who reads newspapers anymore. Even online.

Jul 31, 13 2:32 pm

@drew - anyone else buying up commercial property in Detroit?  Gilbert's been snatching up buildings for as low as $5 SF.  Here in the northeast that's absolutely unheard of.


I think the only other local players all own boring suburban office park - none of these guys have stepped up because they probably don't understand the urban market.  Gilbert appears to be the only act in town - if local architects are whining about it, why doesn't any one of them get in this game?  it's not unheard of for architects to go to the owner side.

Jul 31, 13 4:10 pm

The fundamental problem with buying a whole bunch of property in Detroit is ... then you're stuck with a whole bunch of property in Detroit.

Jul 31, 13 5:11 pm
I'm just thinking of a future where it was hailed that Detroit's downtown was turning around, it makes a legitimate comeback, but then everyone realizes one person owns a majority of the property. The Illitch/Gilbert oligarchy (there are others I'm sure) may be a great thing. Or not. To be determined.

I've never read an article making commentary on it, just those simply stating that more property was bought. That doesn't mean there hasn't been any, just that I haven't read it yet. Granted, the private sector is the only entity there with the time and money right now.

I'm sure Detroit is hardly unique in this way.

Private "public-space".

Don't mean to hijack the thread. This is more about the nature of open idea competitions.
Jul 31, 13 5:39 pm
boy in a well

Tourism development was already tried in Detroit without success. The idea that some kind of architecture / development is going to magically save the city is idiotic. Only a fool expects a different result from repeating the same behavior.

As to the banned submission, it failed to pass the smell test. To be successful, it would have had to transcend the obvious and only subtly suggest a pile of turds. In the most serious manner, of course.

While we're on the subject, one of my favorite poo projects is

Another one - and my hands down favorite - is Wim Delvoye's Cloaca.

Jul 31, 13 7:13 pm

I guess it wasn't ironic enough.

Jul 31, 13 8:54 pm

@drew - your comment is actually pretty relevant -  I think the real issue is that Gilbert is the only one who is doing anything with commercial RE in the city... and he knows that he's basically got the entire local arch community by the balls.  if there was an actual diversity of developers in the city I'm pretty sure he wouldn't even bother holding this sort of competition.

Jul 31, 13 9:26 pm
Then again, this was through his Opportunity Detroit channel...I'm not sure how much overlap that has with Rock Ventures.

I guess, to me, this competition didn't seem like a total prostitution racket. There was no chance to get built. Everyone didn't have to partake. Why not put all of Bustler and Deathbyarchitecture on blast if that's the case.

I observe an outright worship of competition architects. Or at the very least a reverence.

When the time is right, maybe, there will be the usual teaming up of developers and their go-to architects. And the subsequent lowest-common-denominator stuff.

But at least everyone will be handsomely compensated for ensuring blandness.
Jul 31, 13 9:40 pm

@toasteroven: The PR blast for Gilbert's Hudsons competition also came soon after the Riverfront competition wound down. My guess is that Gilbert's camp saw how willing the design community (in Detroit, yes, but also in general) was to hand over design concepts -- not to mention the PR fanfare that was created for the project. 

The public exhibition, according to how it was portrayed in PR, was purportedly meant to gather the public's input. However, unlike the public process following 9/11, the architectural community was first solicited for ideas to which the public simply reacted. All-in-all the competition was nothing more than pomp and PR using architects as the dancing monkey.

Jul 31, 13 10:01 pm
That's a good take.

It would be interesting to see what the split was on the votes. I wonder how many Metallica fans voted. That Belle Isle event was going on,

Would it have been better to leave the tacked-on "public vote" piece off (which was akin to the first round of Detroit Works meetings where residents responded to pre-selected solutions via Jeopardy-buzzer-style-voting)?

Or did the contestants take Kroloffs diagnosis of the downtown for gospel when reading the brief?

I know we referenced the Detroit Future City plan in developing our proposal. Being UDM alum, we couldn't not utilize all that embodied energy and momentum. And of course, public opinion comes from the public, not a competition adviser.

(Also interesting: Cramers take on Detroit and the competition in July's Architect magazine)
Jul 31, 13 10:15 pm

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