Urban borders First prize
Work title: Demotown: A Retroactive Arcology for Detroit (0000701532)
Utopian megaprojects of the 20th century, from Le Corbusier’s Ville Radieuse to Paulo Soleri’s Linear City, are too often negated by their megalomaniacal, individualistic plan for the future. With the tabula rasa as their method for organization, such projects lack the contradictory, contextual, democratic, “organic” process of city building.
Contextual, yet admittedly still megalomaniacal, this project uses the city of Detroit as a found object (rather than a blank canvas), forming the basis for a retroactive arcology that redefines urban density and circulation. The central building district, a skyscraper-graveyard of immense stratified floor area, is renewed and transformed by elevated thoroughfares and programmatic diversity into a compact, self-sustaining urban entity.
Setup: Node Cities
The experiment begins with an act of urban contraction: as the city rapidly loses population with the decline of the automobile empire, Detroit is restructured around a series of nodes. Population departs from the feeble, dwindling fabric of suburban lots, to reinhabit structures of massive bulk (factories, business districts, and mega-malls). Former components in the machine of the Motor City are transformed into independent arcologies that build on the unique possibilities of their preexisting structures.
The salvage industry flourishes as the city dismantles the uninhabited zones between nodes. Detroit becomes a center, at least temporarily, for precious metals and recycled materials. Eventually, the regrowth of forest around the nodes leads to a budding lumber industry.
Case Study: Central Business District Node
The central business district is reinterpreted in section. In the old CBD, circulation between structures was limited to the street level, reinforcing corporate isolation and preventing interaction across lofted spaces. The oppressive, inefficient, and energy-intensive elevator is now replaced by a sloping viaduct that connects seamlessly to types of ground transport (rail, pedestrian, bicycle), and that makes movement between elevated levels possible. Suspended off the existing elevator cores of the skyscrapers, this extension of the street coils around the CBD, crossing itself several times to form a lattice-work of external movement. A coiling metro line runs in a continuous, self-intersecting loop. Station stops are named by altitude.
The new topography opens up the office towers to new programmatic possibilities. As the viaduct punctures each tower, it disrupts and redefines previously homogenous commercial space. Lateral communication at multiple levels brings an urbanity to the former-stratified, isolated spaces. Vertical mechanical conduits, once limiting the floor-plans of each tower to a repeating type, can now be re-routed laterally, allowing for a greater diversity of spaces and programs.
Notions of center and periphery are applied in section: civic, commercial, and educational facilities stand about the grand viaduct, the ‘piano nobile’ of the city. Apartments, offices and studios take advantage of the light above. Traditionally peripheral programs, agriculture, industry and energy, are located on the opposite extremes of the section. Industries form a band of continuous activity below the coil; hydroponic farms proliferate the highest strata; and the town’s energy is supplied by wind at the peaks and geothermal energy in the caissons of the skyscrapers.
As with many industrial cities, the massive scale of Detroit’s defunct commercial, industrial, and residential infrastructure is the greatest impediment to its renewal. The proliferation of abandoned urban space has created a new frontier, one that possesses existing structural resources that may support further development. By considering Detroit as an urban found-object, we propose the utilization of the existent city as natural resource that can be exploited to reshape the landscape and reinvent the ways in which humans settle their environment. We see this approach to Detroit as the forerunner to a dramatic change in the structure of the post-industrial American city.