The chorus of the song “Fields,” by Detroit-born rapper Danny Brown, does a fine job describing the predominant fauna found in the city’s limits: “Where I lived it was house, field, field / field, field house.” And while Campus Martius Park, located in the heart of the downtown business district, has been one of the city’s greatest urban-planning success stories (nabbing the Urban Land Institute’s first-ever “Urban Open Space Award” in 2010), it’s still more of a plaza than a park at heart. So for their proposal for the recent Detroit by Design competition, Hyuntek Yoon, Soobum You, of team atelier WHY, gave downtown Detroit something it’s sorely lacking: trees. A whole forest of them.
Their project, The Forest, took first place in the competition. It proposes the addition of a swath of trees to the city’s Hart Plaza, situated just on the edge of the Detroit River across from Canada. That arboreal cover is intended to arouse “curiosity and poetic imagination in people,” the duo write–an ambitious goal for a downtown that has been known to be less than accommodating to “curious” pedestrians in recent years.
The idea is to create a space, separated visually from the city, that can facilitate interactions of all sizes. Small attractions can be interspersed throughout the woods, while an open space called the knoll is intended as a central meeting place for larger activities. “In our proposal,” Yoon and Yoo explain, “the important idea we focus on is not the types of activities but the scales of them. Many small components of the forest, such as sculptures, trails, or small bridges will be able to hold small scale activities. On the other hand, the knoll, a big open space, will hold large scale activities, such as concerts, screenings, or theatrical performances with magnificent background of forest.” The knoll, cantilevered over the river’s edge, creates an additional covered walkway space beneath and is itself designed to house an indoor visitor center.
But the proposal, at its core, is about transplanting some of the mystery of the woods into an urban landscape. The proposal calls for details like a small concert space in the woods, with scattered seating areas designed to look like tangled tree roots. And wandering is encouraged; the duo’s proposal specifically avoids orderly paths and deliberate signage, the latter of which, they write, “must be minimized and forest-like.”
Sadly, the proposal will likely remain just that; the competition, hosted by the Detroit chapter of the Urban Priorities Committee, was started as a way to generate dialogue and air new ideas about how to revitalize space. As they write on the competition page, “Our intention is to look forward and demand that this very important space at the heart of our city be one of the most amazing spaces in the world.”
[Hat tip: Designboom]