Architecture Case Study by Allison Sheehan
The Gateway Master Plan and Welcome Center, Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge
Hamilton Anderson Associates, 2009, Detroit (U.S.A.)
The Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge (DRIWR) includes islands, coastal wetlands, marshes, shoals, and waterfront lands along 48 miles of shoreline located along the lower Detroit River and western shoreline of Lake Erie. It was established in 2001 as the first International Wildlife Refuge in North America. 1
The creation of the DRIWR reclaimed over 5,000 acres of contaminated soil, diminished wetlands and disintegrated shorelines once used for the great Detroit Industry machine. Thus its location is unique – situated in a major metropolitan area, long known for industry and its environmental consequences.
The city of Detroit has been facing great economical and industrial changes in these last thirty years, that have resulted in a decrease of demographics and the void becoming the majority on a multiplicity of scales. Thus the Detroit metropolitan region is scarred by larger areas of contaminated land and unfortunately the density is not high enough for these pieces of land to be economically interesting to reuse.
The city can be qualified of post urban, and its condition presents a fundamental challenge in finding an appropriate type of landscape urbanism practice.
The Hamilton Anderson Associated (HAA), a Detroit based architecture and landscape firm, was charged of the design of the River International Wildlife Refuge Gateway. The project seeks to broaden the landscape urbanism discourse by developing a strategic, multi scalar design process that re-analyses the urban condition and redefines the void.
Through this design project, the HAA multi-disciplinary team asserted its sustainability commitment by persuading all active communities and client participants of the fundamental value of integrated ecological design. According to Topos “the Gateway Master Plan and Welcome Center is a living demonstration of the principle which, when constructed, will act as a cultural and ecological mitigator between disparate social and environmental forces.”2
The Detroit River Wildlife Refuge Welcome Center acts as a link between the city’s industrial past and socio-ecological future and thus is an ecological threshold on multiple levels.
The Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge is a performing intervention equipped to help people navigate multi-scalar, multi-dimensional urban voids. On a small scale it reuses a Brownfield land thus revitalizing the area, on a larger scale it helps reconnect Detroit to its thriving suburban counterparts.
The issue this project addresses is national and global, it concerns the condition of large post-industrial megalopolis landscape: shrinking cities left to die into a growing contaminated terrain
The program was to design the Gateway Master Plan and Welcome Center of Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge. Community’s leaders, grass roots organizations and state representatives were involved in the design process, during consensus sessions held by HAA. They defined the budget, program, and vision. The Gateway Master plan calls for regeneration of natural lands, a Welcome Center Facility with an ecological-educational dimension, nature trails, fishing access pier, a canoe/kayak launch area, connections to existing waterways and Greenways and various other amenities.3
The design team has seen this project as an opportunity to broaden the landscape urbanism discourse by implementing a strategic, multi scalar design process that re-analyses the urban condition and redefines the void. They acknowledge the void as a majority within the post-industrial urban fabric and show through this project how it can be a dynamic and contradictory opportunity.
Initially the HAA Master Plan approach aimed at defining the void. Before the creation of the Master Plan, the multi disciplinary design team analysed the 44 acres of the former Chrysler automotive paint facility site as a regional void, devising physically (geographically) and psychologically (socio-economically) Detroit from its surrounding suburbs. The Master Plan proposes an open framework within a hybrid naturalised / post-industrial landscape, thus recognising the region’s natural and industrial history.
All elements, regardless of scale, are designed to demonstrate sustainability. Paved surfaces are minimized and porous, lighting is minimal, recycled local materials are used, and storm water is managed and reused on site. The existing Monguagon Drain has been opened and naturally filtered before releasing into the historical route through Humburg Marsh. The Master Plan reuses earthworks to contain contaminated soils and clean storm water. The Welcome Center is designed for a LEED Platinium certification rating from the US Green Building Council.
Challenges and Opportunities
As a physical threshold, the Gateway Master Plan explores Detroit’s specific relationship between industry and wilderness, urban and suburban, contamination and regeneration. The project itself is a multi scalar process involving re-education of human interaction with soil, water filtration through deliberate site design and creation of a refuge for visitors from the urban industrial context and the Detroit metropolitan region.
1. Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge’s Brochure (U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service) http://www.fws.gov/midwest/detroitriver/ (10/09/2011)
2. Detroit: Scale of Crisis = Scale of Intervention, Topos issue 66, 2009.Pdf version : http://www.roguehaa.com/2009/04/22/detroit-wildlife-refuge-project-to-be-published-in-topos/ (10/09/2011)
1. Master Plan; http://www.hamilton-anderson.com/
2. The riverbank transformation
3. Detroit Urban Void Image extracted from Planetizen
http://landscapeandurbanism.blogspot.com/2010/01/terrain-vague.html (visited the 10/09/2011)
4. Demographic and Brownfields in Detroit
Detroit: Scale of Crisis = Scale of Intervention, Topos issue 66, 2009
7. View of the Gateway from the river