South West Project, Detroit, États-Unis

  • Year 2013
  • Architect Christophe Hutin
  • Location Detroit, USA

“A Franco-American cultural exchange between the architect Christophe Hutin and the University of Detroit Mercy took place from 21 to 26 October 2013 in Detroit. A project was produced at the corner of Avis and Elsmere streets in the Southwest neighborhood (known as Springwells), in collaboration with the Design Collaborative Center team, students, and neighborhood residents. On the first day, we met project partners and in particular Erik Howard, head of the Young Nation, which is responsible for neighborhood community projects. Students discussed the progress of their work in the afternoon. The objective was to produce a project during the week on a chosen plot of land to be inaugurated on Saturday. The problem was clear: how to involve the community in this project and what was its value for them? First, the chain that closed the gate of the plot had to be cut to make it accessible. The students went door-to-door to meet residents and invite them to this symbolic event so that work could begin. The site presented some particularities, notably the presence of the Vietnam War Veterans’ Club in a now demolished building, of which traces of the bas-relief walls remain. Part of the ground was cement paving, under which a damaged city water pipe generated significant water retention. Numerous plants had developed there, wetland plants, but also spontaneous vegetation in the cracks, holes, and earth. A meeting with the inhabitants helped us define objectives based on their wishes, needs, and stories: a garden, shade, children playing, a place for public meetings… Work began while questioning the preliminary design. The objectives were clarified, moving towards a spontaneous, improvised action. The presence of water no longer seemed a technical problem but a resource, the beginning of a pond defined by a border in bas-relief. Apple and cherry trees were planted and the concrete blocks from a demolished house stored in the alley behind the plot were used to produce circular seating under and around the trees. The plants on the site are known as “weeds”, yet they represent remarkable biodiversity. The intervention of Charles Cross, the DCDC landscape architect was decisive. A precise inventory of the plants identified, named, and recognized their value as a readymade botanical garden. Charles’ contribution was essential for teaching the students. The plants were labeled to recognize the value of the things around us and transform the way we look at them. Sacramento Knoxx, an Amerindian of the Ojibwe tribe, documented the project on video. His people have always known how to live with nature. I had a dream that they would come and save Detroit. The students were totally involved in the process. More and more people from the neighborhood came every day. On the paved area at the entrance to the plot, a wood amphitheater was constructed for public meetings and various community events. Two levels of seating were tested and built on the site. The equipment follows the line of the walls of the old Veterans’ Club, which is very present in the residents’ stories. On Saturday, the project was inaugurated in the presence of all the participants and inhabitants. Children released fish into the pond. It was a celebration of life and the child that remains in us. This small and modest project was a wonderful adventure full of lessons. It aimed to shine a light on the lives of people in Detroit’s neighborhoods, and their positive actions towards their community, far from the aesthetics of a ghost town that is vacant and shaken by the collapse of a system. The people of Detroit have been wonderful, I thank them for their humanity, this project is for them.”
Christophe Hutin

Consulate General of France in Chicago - Fabrice Rozié
Impact Detroit - Monica Chadha
School of Architecture UDM / Detroit Collaborative Design Center Charles Cross, Virginia Stanard, Christina Heximer, Krista Wilson Young Nation, Detroit - Erik Howard
Sacramento Knoxx