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Posts Tagged ‘Detroit’

REVIEWED BY KELLY COMRAS, FASLA

FROM THE JULY 2018 ISSUE OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE MAGAZINE.

Victor D. Gruen (1903–1980) was one of the most influential architects of the 20th century, a powerful visionary who combined social criticism, persuasive charm, ambition, and talent. Known as the father of the shopping mall, he envisioned a cure for the banality of postwar American suburbia and neglected city centers that profoundly altered the landscape of postwar city development. He suggested “shopping towns,” new community centers that would contain a rich mix of civic and commercial spaces and activities, and the introduction of pedestrian zones within the core of older city centers. Later in life, he criticized that his ideas had been co-opted by developers, commercialized by economic, political, and cultural forces beyond his control, which thereby emerged on the postwar landscape as an unintended archetype: the enclosed, inward-facing, single-purpose, multilevel, two-anchor-department-store shopping center.

Gruen has left us with an impressive number of writings about his work (including the well-known The Heart of Our Cities), and two pertinent books have tackled appraisals of his work—Alex Wall’s Victor Gruen: From Urban Shop to New City (2005) and M. Jeffrey Hardwick’s Mall Maker: Victor Gruen, Architect of an American Dream (2004). But Anette Baldauf’s new translation from German of Gruen’s dictated memoirs, Shopping Town, presents us with (more…)

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BY ZACH MORTICE

Alfred Caldwell. Image courtesy Deborah and Richard Polansky.

“The house is not a machine for living—it is the man’s sense of himself,” Alfred Caldwell once said. And in designing his own home and farm compound in rural Wisconsin, Caldwell forged a bridge between Jens Jensen’s Prairie style and International style modernism, an intersection of design currents that never solidified as much as its forebears. His most cherished project might be Chicago’s Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool, where whorls of meandering paths orbit and shield views around a pond and an earthy, horizontal pavilion. But he was also one of the first American faculty members hired by Mies van der Rohe at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT), and his lush landscape at the architect’s austere Lafayette Park neighborhood in Detroit provides a poetic counterpoint to van der Rohe’s crystalline rationality.

The landscape architecture school of the IIT is offering a multidisciplinary slate of programming through winter, “Alfred Caldwell and the Performance of Democracy,” which will harness the midcentury landscape architect’s legacy and character into a series of performances and archive workshops the school hopes will bring both greater public appreciation and study within the discipline. (more…)

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BY ZACH MORTICE

The Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates plan uses a series of intensely programmed pavilions at the park’s urban edge. Image courtesy Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates.

Update 4/10/2018: The Detroit Riverfront Conservancy has chosen Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates’ plan as the competition winner. 

At 22 acres on a prime Detroit River site southwest of downtown, the future West Riverfront Park could become the city’s new civic front yard.

A design competition hosted by the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy has collected a short list of plans to fill this need, with work by GGN, James Corner Field Operations, Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates (MVVA), and Hood Studio making the cut. The winner will be determined by jury later this month. Several of these plans deal with the site’s relative surrounding vacancy and lack of connection to active, urban uses by building up dense layers of programming, but differ on whether the park is to be a regional centerpiece or one notable amenity along the Detroit RiverWalk’s miles-long string of them.

West Riverfront Park is part of the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy’s larger plan to rejuvenate 5.5 miles of the Detroit Riverfront. East of downtown Detroit, 3.5 miles of the RiverWalk is already complete, featuring entertainment and event spaces, sculpture gardens, cultural venues, parks, and hotels. At the confluence of downtown, Corktown, and Mexicantown, the West Riverfront Park sits near some of the city’s most dramatically resurgent (and stable) neighborhoods. But the park site has been largely barren for decades. Previously, a hulking warehouse for the Detroit Free Press dominated the site. It was privately owned and closed off to the public for about (more…)

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BY ZACH MORTICE

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The abandoned Michigan Central Station in Detroit. Image courtesy of Zach Mortice.

In a city beset by a nearly incomparable foreclosure crisis and 20 square miles of vacant land, there’s been a growing understanding that landscape architecture and Detroit are perfect for each other. But in 2017, the city will unveil a handful of new proposals on how the discipline can grow back healthy urbanism in the Motor City.

Detroit announced early this month that, after an RFP process, it is awarding a total of $1.6 million across four project teams to plan landscape and streetscape improvements including green stormwater management and infrastructure upgrades. Each team will focus on a group of neighborhoods, (more…)

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BY ZACH MORTICE

An abandoned island is the Venice Lagoon. Local Code by Nicholas de Monchaux, published by Princeton Architectural Press 2016.

An abandoned island in the Venice lagoon. Local Code by Nicholas de Monchaux, published by Princeton Architectural Press, 2016.

In his new book, Local Code: 3,659 Proposals About Data, Design, and the Nature of Cities, the University of California, Berkeley architecture and urban design professor Nicholas de Monchaux develops new tools for the mass customization of underused and vacant urban lots, highlighting the limits of inflexible systems thinking. His book charts a way forward with an eye on past failures, and new possibilities founded in corrective measures that have proved to work.

American cities’ first encounters with data, he writes, happened after World War II. That’s when protocomputing power, developed by the military and Cold War consultancies such as the RAND Corporation, merged with tabula rasa modernist urban planning. These binary solutions to complex built environments (remembered most vividly as Robert Moses-style urban renewal that tore down anything old and dirty) became what de Monchaux calls (more…)

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BY JULIAN RAXWORTHY

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From the July 2016 issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine.

In my seminar on contemporary theories of landscape architecture at the University of Cape Town, I recently asked students, during the week allocated to discussing landscape urbanism, to choose a project from Africa that could be called “landscape urbanist.” One student chose the renovation of the Luanda waterfront in Angola. This project is an upgrade that could just as easily be described as conventional landscape architecture or urban design practice. That landscape urbanism seemed to just be landscape architecture to my students suggests how generic the term has become when considered in relation to implementation: It could be just about anything. Landscape urbanism is a vibe.

Landscape urbanism is an evocative term that has exercised great influence over academic design discourse in landscape architecture but has remained ambiguous in practical terms. One of its key propagandists, Charles Waldheim, Honorary ASLA, a professor at the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University, has attempted to provide a “general theory” for it in his new book Landscape as Urbanism, which, while engagingly going some of the way toward doing so, leaves the persistent question of “OK, but so what?” remaining.

Talking about landscape urbanism is more like (more…)

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Don't think of the city as postapocalyptic. Think of it as pre-urban.  Credit: Detroit Future City

Don’t think of the city as post-apocalyptic. Think of it as pre-urban. Credit: Detroit Future City

From the November 2014 issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine.

Erin Kelly, Associate ASLA, was giving me the side eye. We were sitting in a Salvadorean restaurant on Livernois, wolfing down hot food after a bleak circular tour of blighted neighborhoods that ring Detroit’s revitalizing downtown core. I had been talking about DesignInquiry, the group of designers I’d come to town with to check out the city and try to understand what design’s role might be here. Kelly thinks she’s seen quite enough of our type in the short time she’s been working in Detroit: parachuting in from thriving cities, Instagramming ruin-porn pictures shot from the safety of rental cars, and hopping back on the plane after a few days.

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