Dezeen Magazine

Detroit West Riverfront Park by MVVA and David Adjaye

David Adjaye and Michael Van Valkenburgh selected to transform Detroit's West Riverfront Park

Michael Van Valkenburgh and David Adjaye have won a competition to transform a riverside parcel in Downtown Detroit into a thriving public park, with plans for a beach, multiple pavilions and a small isle for roosting birds.

The Detroit RiverFront Conservancy announced yesterday that the British architect and the Brooklyn-based landscape architecture firm triumphed in the international design competition, which sought proposals for the city's 22-acre-long (8.9-hectare) West Riverfront Park.

Detroit West Riverfront Park by MVVA and David Adjaye

Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates (MVVA) – the firm behind Brooklyn Bridge Park – is leading the landscaping of the site. The studio brought on Adjaye, who made his name in the US with the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington DC, to design a series of pavilions.

While the final proposal is yet to be confirmed, a set of drawings submitted for the competition outline the Adjaye-designed structures as a Pool House, a Sports House, a Park House and a Maker House. Each is sized and shaped differently to correlate with the landscape around.

Detroit West Riverfront Park by MVVA and David Adjaye

Proposals for the outdoor areas include creating a beach called The Summer Cover by carving out a chunk of land. A sloped lawn area called The Performance Hill is designed to host events with up to 5,000, as well as casual games of frisbees and picnics. The hill faces a barge floating on the water where performances could be held.

Other changes to the site include building a narrow slip of land in the water with stones. Named Evergreen Isle, the island is intended to foster the ecology of the site, creating a shallow fish channel and reef, and a roosting place for migratory birds.

Detroit West Riverfront Park by MVVA and David Adjaye

MVVA and Adjaye's team also includes Utile, Mobility in Chain, Emmanuel Pratt, and local partners LimnoTech, PEA and NTH Consultants.

It was selected from a shortlist that included James Corner Field Operations, Hood Design Studio with Diller Scofidio + Renfro, and Gustafson Guthrie Nichol.

"It was love at first sight when I saw the Detroit River," said Van Valkenburgh. "I immediately recognised that this new park could draw the city to the water's edge.

"My team and I spent a lot of time exploring Detroit and meeting many Detroiters in the process," he added. "We're looking forward to making West Riverfront Park an amazing place."

Detroit West Riverfront Park by MVVA and David Adjaye

The Detroit RiverFront Conservancy organised the West Riverfront Park design contest as part of its strategy to provide a better connection between the city and the waterfront. The conservancy has focused on overhauling a 5.5-mile (8.9-kilometre) section with the aim to span "bridge to bridge", referring to the MacArthur Bridge in the east of the city to the Ambassador Bridge in the west.

The West Riverfront Park forms the second phase of the project – the three-mile-long developments to the east are over 80 per cent complete.

Detroit West Riverfront Park by MVVA and David Adjaye

It joins a roster of regeneration projects in the city, which saw a rapid urban decline during the second half of the 20th century after the motor industry left, but is now experiencing a revival.

Others include a scheme involving two glass towers by Schmidt Hammer Lassen, and SHoP Architects' replacement for the historic Hudson's department store.

Detroit West Riverfront Park by MVVA and David Adjaye

Adjaye is placed at number 13 on our latest Dezeen Hot List of the most newsworthy forces in world design, and is one of the judges for the inaugural Dezeen Awards this year.

Following the National Museum of African American History and Culture, which recently won the Design of the Year 2018 award, his firm Adjaye Associates architect has undertaken a number of projects in the US.

These include a spy museum in New York that opened earlier this year; a contemporary art museum in San Antonio, Texas, which broke ground in June 2017; and the Studio Museum in Harlem, which will replace the 50-year-old museum's existing 125th Street facility.

More images and plans

Detroit West Riverfront Park by MVVA and David Adjaye