These African-American women are revitalizing Detroit’s design scene


Design is thriving in Motor City: According to a 2018 report by the nonprofit Design Core Detroit, architecture and interior design in the city’s metropolitan area were $ 489.6 million and $ 148.6 million, respectively, and the overall design industry was growing by 15 percent in 2012 and 2016.

The co-founder of Rivet Design Collective, Clarinda Barnett-HarrisonCourtesy Rivet Design Collective

With growth come new opportunities – but as an urban planner Clarinda Barnett-Harrison notes that Detroit’s rapid growth sometimes doesn’t reflect the city’s diversity. Her vision for the city includes designers and architects of color projects that affect the aesthetics of their communities.

To accomplish this, Barnett-Harrison worked with a local interior designer Tiffany Cobb Establish Rivet Design Collective, a multicultural organization promoting networking events for the city’s diverse designers and creatives. “What Tiffany and I are doing is debunking the notion that these professionals are not available,” says Barnett-Harrison. “We can really shed some light on people who have been here and done the job and can be part of the redesign of the city of Detroit.”

As part of Design Core Detroit’s Month of Design series, the collective will host a panel on Multicultural Design in a Resurgent City on September 11 at SpaceLab Detroit, a collaborative workspace for architects and color designers in the city’s financial district. Local architect Cobb is featured in the discussion, which highlights the contributions of Detroit’s various design talents Chandra Moore and designer Loretta Crenshaw, Jeanine Haith and Danae Stop it.

Chandra Moore

Architect Chandra MooreCourtesy Rivet Design Collective

For Moore, who honors the architectural profession on the jury, she says because there aren’t many like her – nationwide only 464 of the 2,293 licensed African American architects are women, according to the Directory of African American Architects-sponsored directory from the University of Cincinnati . “There is no silver bullet to come here,” she says. “But if you stick with it, you will succeed.”

Organizing the Month of Design series, Design Core Detroit was founded in 2010 by the College for Creative Studies to promote the city’s burgeoning design industry – and the role design can play in boosting the local economy. The nonprofit also helped Detroit earn the 2015 UNESCO City of Design award – the only American city to receive the award.

Why Detroit? “We’re not surprised when people are surprised,” says Olga Stella, CEO of Design Core. She suggests that a resilient design community in Detroit has strengthened the automotive and information technology industries, and that residents may not realize how much design adds value and attracts new businesses to the city. “When we were selected, the other cities on the network and UNESCO staff felt that there was something valuable to be found in why design is making a difference in revitalizing Detroit,” she explains.

In naming Detroit as the City of Design, UNESCO recognized both the city’s past and its promise: “With its industrial past, Detroit has established itself as the cradle of American modernist design and the global hub for productive designers, including Eames, hill, Saarinen and Yamasaki, ”According to the UNESCO website. “The design industry was a driver of urban renewal in the city and is now a major employment and economic engine, employing more than 45,000 people and generating $ 2.5 billion in wages.”

Tiffany Cobb

Tiffany Cobb, co-founder of Rivet Design CollectiveCourtesy Rivet Design Collective

There is also a rich history of African American designers in Detroit that Crenshaw would like to highlight during Rivet’s panel discussion. She quoted the gallery owner Dell Pryor As a trailblazer and mentor, she is looking forward to speaking with Haith, one of her mentees, about the panel next month.

Crenshaw says she has seen a surge in African American designers over the past five years – a change she finds encouraging. “I don’t see them as competition,” she says. “I see them as people I’m proud of, who are happy that they are doing well and who bring new ideas.”

Co-worker Haith said it was Crenshaw’s encouragement that helped her leap in confidence, and when she left her career at Ford Motor Company in 2007 to devote herself to interior design, it becomes a “full circle moment” be to talk about panel together. As someone who has benefited from close mentorship, Haith is happy to set up a self-help group with other African-American women – and hopefully to become a mentor for someone else.

“The design contains voices and faces in color,” says Haith. “There are opportunities out here for us to influence the Detroit rebirth.”

“Multicultural Design in an Emerging City” will take place on Wednesday, September 11th at 6pm at SpaceLab Detroit (607 Shelby Street, 7th floor). Register here to participate. Design Core Detroit’s Design Month 2019 is available here.


Dusty Kennedy