"The Forest," the first-place proposal in the recent Detroit by Design competition, puts a patch of forest in the heart of downtown.

The idea is to arouse "curiosity and poetic imagination in people" by creating a separate space from the city.

The dense trees would allow for interactions big and small, including intimate concerts.

As well as more public meeting places based around current monuments and sculptures.

An open communal space called the knoll, situated right on the edge of the Detroit River, is intended be used for screenings and performances.

The knoll juts out over the river’s edge, housing the park’s visitor’s center and covering a walkway beneath.

Unfortunately, the proposal is likely to remain just that--the competition merely was intended to generate a dialogue about the space.


An Idea To Build A Tiny Forest In Detroit's Heart

This prize-winning proposal aims to introduce some wooded tranquility to Detroit’s riverfront.

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."

See more of the proposals here.

[Hat tip: Designboom]

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  • Topnotediva

    Kyle, it was hosted by the Detroit Chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA Detroit).  The Urban Priorities Committee is a committee of AIA Detroit, not an entity in itself.

  • Jessica Tiernan

    As someone who lives in Detroit, this design is ridiculous. It takes all the ways that Hart Plaza is currently successfully utilizing and negates them.

    They, quite obviously, did no research into what Detroit's ENTIRE space has to offer. If they did, they would've realized that, from both a research and design perspective, that a forest in the middle of Hart Plaza is utterly ridiculous. They absolute last thing Detroit needs is a space that promotes more sectioning and dividing into smaller segments.

    It essentially ignores the need of the specific location to opt for a solution that is a blanket auto-fix for a "city." 

  • Erik

    This is a joke, right? This was clearly designed by someone who has no understanding of the type of people who live in Detroit. The Hart Plaza space is in dire need of redesigning, but the people of Detroit already don't take care of the public parks they have - why would you build another one? There is no place for kids to play and no way for the city to generate any income from this. I can't believe this idea won.

    "Let's just say 'F it!' and put in a forest."

    This is very similar to when a design professor I had told me regarding a book design project that what I designed was almost "anti-design". It was so stripped down, that it appealed to no one. It inspired me to better understand design and stop designing what I wanted to see and instead, design for the proper audience. I suggest the team of Hyuntek Yoon and Soobum You do the same.

  • guest

    Don't we already have Belle Isle? I think this would be a complete waste of money that is greatly needed for other projects.

  • T Paulus

    "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."

    Brother. This is completely and utterly detached from any of the real problems and issues facing Detroit.  It's an urban nightmare - no jobs, high crime, fleeing population, corrupt politicians and bloated bureaucracy. 

    It needs sane fiscal policy and honest, sensible governing far far more importantly than it needs a park on the river.