For a New Cultural District, the Detroit Institute of Arts Seeks “Exceptional Design Flair”

Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) / Wikipedia

The Detroit Institute of the Arts (DIA) and Midtown Detroit Inc have launched a design competition to find a landscape architecture firm with “exceptional design flair” to create a new “DIA plaza,” which can better connect DIA with nearby institutions and form the basis for a coherent, accessible cultural district. Back from the brink of nearly having to sell its art holdings to pay off Detroit’s debtors, the DIA aims to remake its four-acre front plaza and grounds as a destination in themselves, perhaps like the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s iconic grand staircase and fountains. They also want the designers to forge greater neighborhood connections through urban and landscape design, so visitors are encouraged to explore.

The current landscape around the museum doesn’t help the DIA achieve its goals. According to the design competition organizers, “The Wall Street Journal hailed the DIA as ‘the world’s most visitor-friendly museum’ in 2015. However, despite the success inside the museum, visitor experiences on the exterior spaces that surround the museum tell a different story. Potential visitors have described the exterior and grounds as ‘impermeable’ and ‘standing separate from our community.'”

Furthermore, there is a lack of connection with nearby institutions, which seem near in the map below, but Detroit’s blocks are very big. Educational and cultural institutions adjacent to the DIA include: the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, the College for Creative Studies, the Detroit Historical Museum, the Detroit Public Library, the Michigan Science Center, University of Michigan, and Wayne State University.

Area to be considered in the design competition / Midtown Cultural Connections

The design team will be asked to create a “strong and innovative design vision that re-imagines the DIA’s grounds, making them highly visible, welcoming, flexible, and functional to support year-round outdoor programming.” Then, the team will be asked to extend this vision beyond the DIA through district-wide improved pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure, way finding, public art, and parking.

Area to be considered in the design competition / Midtown Cultural Connections

The jury includes Salvador Salort-Pons, president of the DIA; landscape architect Julia Bargmann, ASLA, founder of D.I.R.T. Studio; and Maurice Cox, urban planning director for Detroit.

The competition will occur in three stages. Register by April 30, 2018.

In other Detroit landscape architecture news: Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates (MVVA) just won a competition organized by Detroit Riverfront Conservancy to revamp the 22-acre Detroit West Riverfront Park, which is comparable in size to Maggie Daley Park in Chicago or Brooklyn Bridge Park in New York City. Award-winning architect David Adjaye joins the MVVA’s team. The conservancy’s goal is revitalize 5.5 miles of riverfront in Detroit. To date, some 80 percent of a three-mile segment is complete.

West Riverfront Park / Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates (MVVA)

MVVA’s models and renderings for the $50 million park will be on display in Detroit over the coming weeks. One model will be found in the Prentis Court at the Detroit Institute of Arts through May 6 and another will be found in the Wintergarden at the GM Renaissance Center through May 10.

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