DetroitPhoto Du Jour

Replanning Downtown Detroit – Part 1 of 8

From the September 1959 issue of the AIA Journal

Replanning Downtown Detroit
The Architects’ Urban Design Collaborative

Two years ago, under the auspicies of the Detroit Chapter of the AIA, a group of architects, representing many prominent offices in Detroit, held an organizational meeting to discuss ways and means of contributing to the betterment of their own city. The group, actually, was an outgrowth of the former Architects’ Civic Design Group, which was in existence from 1943 to 1948. At that time the architects, under the guidance of the late Eliel Saarinen, organized for the purpose of conducting voluntarily an independent study of the basic principles of city planning as applied to Detroit. Over a period of five years the members of the group, despite the pressure of their own work, brought their study to a conclusion. The result of this work, in form of models and drawings, was exhibited at the Detroit Institute of Arts. The fresh and exciting ideas thus presented, no doubt influenced and contributed greatly to the present Master Plan of Detroit.

The Architects’ Urban Design Collaborative, as the new group calls itself, continued where the other group left off. The intervening twelve years saw a realization of part of the Master Plan of Detroit which included two expressways, the Civic Center, the University Group and tentative studies for many other important projects.

Working within the framework of the objectives of the Master Plan, the group undertook the study of the Central Business District, an area of approximately 800 acres. It was encouraging to see the warm response of the architects towards the entire project. In all
thirty-five architects representing a number of architectural offices or working as individuals, took part.

Welcoming the work of the Group was Charles Blessing, Director of the City Plan Commission. All the economic data and other research work which the City Plan Commission had were made available to the group. To absorb the data and understand the problems was the first task. Only then could the group come up with new and fresh concepts which would influence the yet unplanned areas of the CBD.

An executive committee was appointed which set up the following program:

1 Studies and assimilation of planning data.

2 Planning analysis and design recommendations.

3 Preliminary architectural studies for separate areas by groups or individuals.

4 Review and co-ordination of preliminary studies among the members of the group.

5 Preparation of the material for final presentation.

Meetings and workshops were held regularly in the Old City Hall, made available to the group by the city. All preliminary schemes, in the form of sketches and models, were presented to the entire group for general discussion and criticism.

As the individual teams delved into the replanning of the CBD, it became apparent that, among other pressing problems, the more crucial ones were the following:

1 To provide proper and efficient facilities for bringing in and accommodating large numbers of vehicles. (To solve this problem alone would re­quire a new, radical and imaginative approach in transportation techniques!)

2 To create an environment conducive to pleasant and relaxed shopping, recreation, person­al and government transactions (created by large open plazas free of traffic hazards).

3 To replace the existing obsolete buildings with new structures designed for modern needs.

The group felt that this three-point program must be realized as soon as possible, if the city is to gain any advantage from the newly created Civic Center. It should be noted that a successful Civic Center must go hand in hand with a revital­ized and economically sound CBD.

The works of the group presented on the fol­lowing pages, identified by letters on the key map, are a culmination of the collective thinking of the entire group of architects. It is not intended as a final solution for rebuilding the “heart” of our city. Rather it is hoped that it would serve as a stimulant for the public, the government officials and the architectural profession to take a long range view and a dynamic initiative in the task of rebuilding our city.


Chairman, Architects’ Urban Design Collaborative

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