New Ignition for Motor City?

The decline of the American automotive industry leaves its traces in Detroit: From the sixties on, the proud city struggles with an economical downfall which results in a remarkable decline of its population and urban life. Today, abandoned and neglected buildings shape the core area. Since then, many efforts have been made to bring Motor City’s engine back to work. The latest attempt comes with a project from the Danish architects Schmidt, Hammer, Lassen and includes the first skyscraper for Detroit’s downtown in a generation. It seems promising because, in contrast to past projects, social and ecological components play a greater role.

Failed Reanimations

The most recognisable effort for a reanimation of the abandoned downtown area was surely the giant Renaissance Center from 1977. Initiators were the managers of the automotive industry. A complex of five high-rise buildings houses the offices of General Motors and should bring new economic impulse to the City. But the Renaissance Center failed. The planners committed the mistake of equating economics with urban life. Detroitians especially criticised the fortress-like character of the buildings and the ignoring of the waterfront.

Multidimensional approach

Schmidt, Hammer and Lassen Architects from Copenhagen created an ambitious concept for Detroit’s downtown. Located at the nearly empty Monroe Blocks, it differs a lot from previous projects. Instead of only focusing on businesses, the concept also respects urban life and the environment. The development will combine public spaces for various activities with 480 residential units and Detroit’s first high-rise office tower in a generation. Following the old Woodward’s plan of the downtown, the new Monroe Blocks will re-establish the urban fabric, promoting gathering, socialising and interaction. Small side streets and a wide variety of accessible spaces will connect some of the city’s key central public spaces. Maybe a more European approach can ignite the engine of Motor City again.

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All pictures by Schmidt, Hammer, Lassen Architects.