MOCAD Rebuilds Detroit From The Ground Up
Where do we go from here? It’s a question people nationwide are asking as it seems the rest OF THE country has finally caught up to the economic predicament Wayne county has been experiencing for decades. Solutions (using the term loosely) seem to offer only temporary hope as the main obstacles continue to road block attempted strides of progress: a fuel obsessed, collapsing auto industry, the powerful undercurrent of historical (and at this point almost hysterical) racial tension, high-speed brain drain and a now infamous staLling, self-absorbed and disgustingly corrupt municipality. The question remains: Where do we go from here?
The Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD) is offering an answer that seems almost too practical, too systematically sensible, to be true. Considering Architecture, the museum’s current exhibition, puts forth a provoking display, a marriage of clean and clever innovative modern architectural design and environmental consciousness with the revitalization of Detroit city in mind.
Perhaps we WERE the Motor City.
But perhaps that title no longer suits us. No, “Architectural Town,” doesn’t really have the same ring, but let’s be honest with each other, what good has being the Motor City done us recently?
The area of Midtown to Downtown serves as an open architectural canvas just as the promising architectural community acts as the artists at the ready. Only one thing is missing: mass communal support and awareness. MOCAD is bringing it all together, leaving their visitors with only one question when they leave, and it’s not, “Where do we go from here?” but rather, and exuberantly proposed, “When do we start?"
Real Detroit spoke with MOCAD’s Deputy Director Greg Tom who specializes in exhibitions, programs and development and Brian Hurttienne of the American Institute of Architects to get at the foundation of Considering Architecture and the future of Detroit.
I feel like this exhibition is one that is of the utmost importance for people to see the potential Detroit has to become the city it deserves to be — it’s inspiring. What was the catalyst for it to be put on? Brian Hurttienne:
I went to the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago to see a Bruce Mau exhibit a year and a half ago and there, off to the side, was a small room that had an exhibit of new sustainable design by Chicago architects. Well, that was, of course, very interesting to me and I thought that we should do that in Detroit to promote Detroit architects, which is what my main focus is. But I wanted to do it better than what they had done in Chicago, which was basically, one model, a couple drawings and some basic descriptions. What we’re doing here is a full-blown exhibit display — taking a very artistic approach to the work to make it more interactive instead of just a walk through.
It seems that Considering Architecture is multi-layered and that there’s a lot going on in it. Is there a “mission,” so to speak?BH:
It is really all about promoting design, architectural design, in Detroit firms. We have a lot of talent here and it never really gets to be showcased. We’re also up on the whole “green movement” in architectural design, which architects have been primarily supportive of for over 20 years — being environmentally conscious. Getting the building owners, developers and municipalities steered in that same direction has been the main movement. We have the capability of doing that and we’re showing these designs that are in the forefront of what’s happening in the architectural world. Including the Urban Land Institute and the U.S. Green Building Council as part of our exhibit to make a very well-rounded show of environmentally friendly buildings in our region.
What are the architectural trends we’ll see in the exhibit and how do they relate to both design style and environmentalism?BH:
The style trend in architecture right now is pretty much based on modernism; the clean lines and classic modern designs of the Bauhaus tradition are coming to the forefront again as we’ve seen in both a number of residences and also larger buildings in New York or even places like Dubai. It’s a very streamlined approach to stylistic architecture. The “green” elements have a lot more to do with materials and systems that relate to energy use and how energy use will be incorporated into each house, each office building and each municipality.
Environmentally speaking, it’s kind of like increasing your miles per gallon; that’s a good analogy for the exhibit's "green" approach. It’s just way easier to increase the efficiency of your energy use and, on top of that, it also creates an economic incentive for the consumer because as you decrease your utilities cost, the upfront cost and cost of maintenance on the structure is reduced. A lot of the buildings in this show highlight those details.
With environmentalists, architecture students/buffs and the modernism MOCAD crowd at large all being interested audiences, is there one faction out there that you hope the exhibit reaches more than another?GT:
Though the exhibit might target those who already have these specific interests, MOCAD’s audience, about 80 percent of it, is made up of people age 18 to 35 and we see our audience and we want to bring them exhibits we believe will interest and inspire all of them. I believe that this exhibit is no different in that regard. Our focus is always on the new, the contemporary, the current.
The exhibition is anchored in the rebirth, so to speak, of Detroit and its surrounding area. Are all of the designs coming from the minds of native Detroiters?BH:
Not all are native Detroiters because it’s very much a regional thing, not just a specifically Detroit thing. When we think of the Detroit metropolitan region, it’s not just the city of Detroit. To me, even though you might live in Royal Oak or Bloomfield Hills, when you go somewhere out of state, you’re from Detroit. That’s what I want to promote — we’re all one and we’re all in this together.
Does Considering Architecture draw a general map for what Detroit should do or does it actually address specific locations around town?BH:
Though the exhibition addresses several aspects of opportunity for the Detroit area generally, there are a couple Detroit-specific things — a Woodbridge house, the Housing Operative on the Eastside and the Detroit River Wildlife Refuge downriver to name a few.
Detroit boasts quite an historically rich architectural pedigree. I see this exhibition as a very important link in that chain — a chain that has been rusted over the last few decades.BH:
I know in the ‘50s, the architecture in Detroit’s heyday was renowned due to the great importance of the auto industry, and one of my goals is to promote architecture to restore that aspect. Detroit has a very good growth potential, especially with new buildings.
There doesn’t seem to be a shortage of open space for a “big city.”BH:
Part of the reason we’re having this exhibit at MOCAD is because of the creative community downtown, in the urban core, that is really being promoted these days. This is another design element that is part of that whole creative core, and with the technology that we have in this region because of the automobile industry, it makes a lot of sense. This area has a huge potential to do these energy design aspects in green design that most of the nation, let alone most Detroiters, don’t realize. So we’re going to promote all that architectural style and environmental technology in one creative package.
I think that the show speaks to some of the importance of the opportunity in the unique position that Detroit has in terms of the “green revolution.” The capabilities for manufacturing energy-saving technologies is already in place here. For instance, I believe one of the largest solar panel stamping plants is actually here in Southeast Michigan — that’s not necessarily a well-known fact.
It sounds like everything's already in place ...GT:
There are enormous opportunities for Michigan to take advantage of the rest of the nation’s demand for “green” technology. That could be an enormous potential growth venture for Michigan and we want to use this show to highlight those opportunities as well as the role that modern architecture plays in the process. As far as other cities of Detroit’s size are concerned, opportunity is limited due to limited space, we have amazing opportunity due to the availability of land.
As long as The Big 3 are alive and holding court in the metro-Detroit area, we’ll be an automotive town. Hell, even if they all buckled under the economic confines of modern times, we’d still be the dream cruisin’, gear greasing town of America. But we need more. We deserve more.
It’s time these questions we’re all asking start getting answers. With all of the industrial engineering this town has, it makes no sense to look outside of the production line, but I believe we do need to look at what exactly we’re producing. And let’s face it — America, environmentally speaking, is the global herd of black sheep. Even here in Michigan, with our gorgeous great lakes, famous forests and outdoor opulence, we pollute the soil, water and air with the best of ‘em. We can change all of that, we can spearhead environmental architecture and set the mold for international architectural design with resources already in place. I’m not intending to go off on a hippied-out diatribe on peace, love and Mother Nature, I’m talkin’ about insuring the future of this city and once again reclaiming Detroit as a world-class city.
Things might get worse before they get better, and one thing is certain, people will continue to ask, “Where do we go from here?” Well, what about an architectural, environmental revolution? It really is something to consider. | RDW
See it to believe it: mocadetroit.orgConsidering Architecture • through 7/28 • MOCAD
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