A multi-interdisciplinary team of Wayne State graduate students took home the top prize in the Detroit Institute of Arts Student Design Summit.
Under the project name 51Eighty, the Warriors beat out 22 other teams from the University of Michigan, University of Detroit Mercy, College for Creative Studies and Interlochen Center for the Arts. In addition to winning the main Cultural District Jury award, the Wayne State team also received the People’s Choice award, garnering the majority of the more than 1,500 votes from the public based on its video submission.
“It feels really good to have won the popular vote the way we did. I was surprised that we won by so much,” said Gus Navarro, a master’s student in the Department of Communication and graduate assistant with University Television in the Office of Marketing and Communications. “To me, it shows that each team member has a really solid foundation of people who love and support them — which is super cool.”
Navarro served as producer and editor of the three-minute video competitors were required to submit that proposed how to make the DIA and surrounding area more modern and accommodating.
Along with Navarro, the team was composed of Xiao Zhou, Kristin Shaw, Shelby Holmes, Allison Elam, Heather Washington, Tori Williamson, Krupa Vora, Jessica Stroble, Mariah Bosquez and Ashaki Zeigler. Exhibiting university teamwork, the students hail from the Department of Urban Studies and Planning; the College of Fine, Performing and Communication Arts; College of Engineering; College of Education; and the School of Social Work.
Also pitching in for the video was WDET’s Sascha Raiyn who provided the video’s voiceover. Detroit artists Nolan Chapman and Waajeed are the featured musicians.
For their entry, the team designed a green space that would connect the DIA with the surrounding institutions. The design proposes adding an amphitheater, relocating MOCAD and creating a pedestrian-friendly street design.
“The district would foster a sustainable environment,” said Kristin Shaw, design team member and master of urban planning program student. “It’s kind of like a backyard for all of the institutions.”
The design also includes a digital element that would allow visitors to interact virtually with the space via an app. The team’s video illustrates how the app would help unify marketing and branding for the district.
“We really wanted to do something that celebrated the district and the city as a whole,” Navarro said. “One thing Detroit does really well is the ‘outdoor festival.’ We thought the walkways, green space and shared amphitheater would allow for exciting programming year-round from all the institutions in the district.”
The team looked to Detroiters to find inspiration for their design and conducted formal surveys online to find what people liked about the area and what was missing. They also made site visits to survey the area with cameras.
“I think our project was successful because we invested in bringing in different perspectives —not only from our group, but from the people of Detroit,” said Allison Elam, graduate student from the Department of Communication. “That really helped us get to the core of how people experience the Cultural Center and gave us an idea of how we could improve the area.”
Shaw said the team also looked at the 1990 Detroit urban design concept for the inner city, which was an old document by the Detroit Planning and Development Department. “More green space was allocated for Detroit in general, and so we pulled from how they used green space to connect the area,” she said.
Shaw became inspired to join a student team after Urban Planning Professor Kami Pothukuchi encouraged her class to get involved with the competition and take advantage of the unique opportunity.
“The competition helps us — whether in Detroit or outside of it — think about how the DIA connects with its various constituencies and how the district can be designed to be more than the sum of the cultural institutions that constitute it,” Pothukuchi said. “It's an exciting time for Detroit, so this exercise is especially timely. Our students are in a good place — literally — to offer ideas.”
Wayne State’s proposal now will go for review by the professional firm selected to create the plaza. In addition, three professional teams will display their final presentations at the DIA’s Riviera Court on Jan. 23. The winner will be named in March.