Design thinking is a series of processes. It is the ability to articulate complex systems and solutions through a series of visual representations in a concise and simply understood format. This practice drives discovery and is typically subject to interpretation. Context and process are the foundation upon which a design emerges. Recently Stoss Landscape Urbanism completed a project in Detroit identifying a strategic framework plan to improve the socioeconomic future of the city, “Detroit Future City”.
In a broad sense the site is the entire city of Detroit. But the purpose of a framework plan is to identify site-specific design strategies that are informed by the context. Stoss identifies fragmented land vacancies as a site typology. A larger site then emerges within a neighborhood. This site is informed by the context of surrounding neighborhoods. The process is repeated throughout the city forming a new network of social, economic, and ecologic growth.
The scalar nature of “Detroit Future City” allows growth to be flexible. The design intent is communicated at multiple scales. As touched on earlier, it begins with micro-scale residential land vacancies that grow into a neighborhood scale, a community scale, and then is realized at a macro city scale.
143 square miles, of those 28 square miles of vacant areas perforate the cities vast landscape. As a shrinking city, managing lands of this scale and varied terrain is extensive and costly. Letting the terrain inform design decisions is key to understanding which natural systems can be capitalized on as new urban infrastructure. Hydrology and pedology form the roadmap for Detroit’s future land-use.
Ecological landscapes are one of five design programs driving the concept of “Detroit Future City”. These opportunity landscapes are identified within residual industrial land and vacancies to specifically target habitat creation relating to urban forests and meadows. Rapid succession and reforestation will form a complete ecologic framework within the city.
Social and productive landscapes allow residences to reclaim the landscape as their own. Facilitating urban agriculture and programming recreational centers reinstates identity and pride within a community setting. By identifying strategic locations for implementation, the impact of these design programs will act as a ripple that permeates all layers of culture in the city.
At a project of this scale, enormous amounts of data must be collected and synthesized into objectives. Mapping this data creates a visual inventory from which analytic conclusions are drawn. The analysis surfaces from related studies of current land uses, ecologic systems, cultural regions, connective corridors, etc.
This is the moment in the analytical process when discovery happens. Through the process new relationships form to identify design issues and solutions. Specifically designing hybrid infrastructure networks, ecologic networks, open space networks, and food networks in Detroit has the potential to frame future identity.
From the beginning Stoss identified what resources were available within the city to successfully create this conceptual framework plan. The typologies/ prototypical landscapes were very helpful in seeing the application of these tools. Each define unique elements of the site and project, combined they work as a system of infrastructures and solutions to the issue of Detroit’s growing vacancies.
Input/output and process diagrams are extremely helpful in terms of communicating and defending the design intent. They give direction to the project and serve as guidelines as it develops.
From a representation standpoint the communication of ideas and design intent is clear. The types of drawings are simple and diagrammatic. For a large-scale project like this I believe representation has to be conceptual and graphic, rather than photoreal. The quality of work and the output level was high.
Through the process of design thinking, complex solutions can be graphically represented in understandable formats. Stoss Landscape Urbanism is very successful at this process and “Detroit Future City” exemplifies this practice.