Detroit architecture exhibit sparks international curiosity
Venice, Italy – About 4,000 miles away, in a European city known for its old world architecture and ancient canals, an exhibition on Detroit piques international curiosity.
Reporters from at least a dozen nations flocked to the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale on Thursday, the first day the media got a glimpse of an event considered the Oscars of architecture and design.
Detroit is the only focus of US accession at the Biennale. Twelve fantastic models from four locations in Detroit are on display, which the curators of the exhibition hope will change the worldview of the Motor City.
“This exhibition is critical to architecture and Detroit,” said Cynthia Davidson, one of the co-curators of Detroit’s The Architectural Imagination.
“Architecture has an enormous range of ideas and measures,” said Davidson. “This is a really critical moment in Detroit. with the question of where it is and where it could go, what it could become. “
The queue was out the door at various points during the day to see the Detroit exhibit. At night around 800 people jammed the official opening party in the sculpture garden of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection.
Detroit techno pioneer Blake Baxter set the tunes for attendees, including US Ambassador to Italy, John Phillips, Packard facility owner Fernando Palazuelo, and many new Detroit fans.
“I want to go to Detroit to see the post-industrial city reinvent itself,” said Diana Marrone, a Naples-based journalist and public relations consultant. “It’s not hard to understand a city that invented modern things like the assembly line, great music like techno – that it’s a place of unique inventions.”
The Detroit exhibition at the Biennale shows highly stylized versions of how iconic places could be transformed.
On one of the models based on the ruins of the Packard factory, reporters put on Microsoft HoloLens goggles to display the holograms contained in an architect’s vision.
Dubbed the “Center for Fulfillment, Knowledge, and Innovation,” Los Angeles-based architect and designer Greg Lynn’s concept design introduces the Packard facility as a sprawling new factory with giant tubes and buildings that look soft and curvy.
In another exhibit, architect Marshall Brown created a model of a tower building for two muddy lots on Division Street near Dequindre Cut. The tower is called the Dequindre Civic Academy, a 2.7 million square foot facility based in part on the Renaissance Center.
The models are based on four locations in Detroit: the former Packard plant; empty land on division near Dequindre Cut and Eastern Market; the US Central Post Office in downtown West Fort; and an empty former maintenance terminal for Detroit Public Works in West Vernor and Livernois.
Each location has three different teams of architects who create their own visions for the location.
At the US Post Office facility – a site with more than 1,000 workers – postal officials said they had no idea the complex was going to be “reinvented”.
But here architects have reinvented the place as “The New Corktown”, imagining a space on the riverside surrounded by trees and a subway station. Another, “The Next Port of Call” by BairBalliet, shows a row of whirling white and gold buildings between open spaces.
“We wanted to do the show about American architects who think of Detroit,” said Monica Ponce de Leon, the other curator of the Detroit exhibition. She is currently the Dean of Architecture at Princeton University. She was previously the dean of the University of Michigan School of Architecture and Planning. “Our main goal is to have multiple conversations about public space and public life in post-industrial cities.”
That’s a good thing because there is already talk in Detroit that this elite show is just the exploitation of the city – the ruin porn – leading to a growing unease about gentrification.
Organizers and others here insist that this can help change the conversation and that the dialogue is just beginning.
“This is a great opportunity for an international platform that any city can have,” said Palazuelo, owner of the Packard facility, who attended the exhibition. “When this kind of incredible talent explores spaces in the city, it can open a lot of people’s eyes to the tremendous opportunity in the city that many Detroit residents have created.”
The Venice Architecture Biennale is open to the public on Saturday and runs until November 28th. Around 250,000 visitors are expected during the entire run.
“Globally, the media sees Detroit very closely,” said Ponce de Leon.
“I thought this exhibit would be a great way to show the world the diversity of thought that exists in Detroit. It’s a place full of great ideas. “
Via the websites
Twelve top architecture and design firms across the country have been selected to envision four new locations in Detroit for the Biennale. Three different teams have been assigned to each location, so each location has three revised models.
The websites are:
■US post1401 W. Fort. The facility – a post office, mail processing center, and administration office – takes up an entire block. Architects were encouraged to imagine how the building could help connect the thriving Corktown neighborhood and the west bank of the river, where the RiverWalk path now extends.
■Dequindre Cut / Eastern Market area1923 division. These are two empty lots owned by the city. The site is just one block from the recent expansion of the Dequindre Cut path, the former railroad that is now a popular test for cyclists and pedestrians. It’s also located on the eastern edge of Eastern Market, the historic farmers market that attracts upscale retail and residential properties.
■Mexicantown6370 W. Vernor. The site is a former maintenance yard for the Detroit Public Works near an ugly, pedestrianized intersection of West Vernor and Livernois. Various organizations have tried unsuccessfully to generate interest and funds for the development of the website. West Vernor is the main business area of the resilient southwestern community.
■Packard Plant, East Grand and Concord. The massive former Packard Automotive Plant, named after the former automaker, has become a landmark of Detroit’s decay. The new owner, Fernando Palazuelo, describes the facility as having 3.5 million square meters of potential. He has made progress in cleaning the space, protecting it from tourists and scrap, and securing several tenants. He estimates the overhaul will take up to 15 years.