Narrative for Detroit’s Design Center in a Box architectural competition
On and Off Architecture Team: Paige Donnell, Seonheee Kim, Jess Osserman,  Jiaxiang Shen & Mark Wise

“Detroit is a city of Hope rather than a city of Despair. The thousands of vacant lots and abandoned houses provide not only the space to begin anew but also the incentive to create innovative ways of making our living-ways that nurture our productive, cooperative, and caring selves.” - Grace Lee Boggs

Detroit is a city not of one story, but multitudes. We are fed a master narrative about blight, economics, industry, and despair. But, when we scratch the surface of these perspectives, we encounter thriving communities, urban farms, and resilience. Detroit is a city bubbling with creative, powerful, engaged people, with stories of hope. We want to build a soundboard for the existing and deeply rooted community of Detroit. It is these narratives we hope to engage in our architectural intervention in a Detroit storefront.

We propose creating a new perspective, to force deeper views into a familiar typological space, and hope to transform the experience of walking down a familiar street. Once, the storefront was boarded up, it was intended to keep out. The facade must adapt to let people in but furthermore to announce its commitment to letting in. It must do more than just remove bars and boards from windows, it must invite.

The focal point of the new perspective at the back of the space will be a changing community art platform. The wall will rotate to provide both a canvas for projected works, and a mural commissioned by a local artist. This deep space will be the bright spot that draws in passersby. The lighting treatment will create a rhythmic pattern on the walls and ceiling that accentuates the morphing shape of the space, while visually altering the perspective of onlookers to invoke a sense of depth and intrigue. Along the angled side walls, we will build a series of doors which will unfold to create multiple spatial configurations for display, working, collaboration, meeting and gathering. The ambient lighting treatment applied will offer illumination modes that are versatile and react to the changing spatial configurations by adapting the visual experience. Some walls will unfold into tables, others will open into display walls for exhibits, others will function as storage for additional seating and display furniture. The design will prioritize ease of rearrangement and adaptability for users, making transitions from one program to another easy to implement.

Detroit’s industrial and economic history is too often fetishized and cannibalized. Rather than reuse an industrial waste stream, we choose to look forward to a sustainable innovative future. The walls will be built of locally harvested and milled timber from trees taken down in and around Detroit. They will subtly connect the design to place, without engaging nostalgia or overlaying morals. We will utilize CNC technology to accurately fabricate pieces for furniture that can be reconfigured easily by users. Craft of execution is as important as concept, and we plan to utilize our strengths as builders and crafts people to create a space that is truly of service to those using it.

The programming and users of the space will ultimately be what makes this a place of and for Detroit, what makes it embody “Detroitness”. As transplants to the area, we can not provide an authentic narrative about Detroit, but we can create a soundboard for those narratives to be heard.We believe that Detroit is defined and redefined by its people, and we see this project as a space for the voices of Detroit, for alternative narratives, and productive conversations. Our proposal is premised on its deep functionality, its adaptability to different programs, and it’s commitment to let Detroit speak for itself.