Let’s Go Downtown and Get Lost in the Forest

That’s the idea behind the prize-winning entry in a Detroit design competition.
A rendering of The Forest, the first place winner of the “Detroit by Design 2012: Detroit Riverfront Competition.” (Courtesy atelier WHY)
Jan 11, 2013
A former Gourmet staffer, Lawrence enjoys writing about design, food, travel, and lots of other stuff.

There’s a section of riverfront near downtown Detroit that includes the city’s Hart Plaza. It’s got a tunnel to Canada, an ugly, view-obstructing parking garage, and the scar of the recently demolished Ford Auditorium, among other monuments to a bygone era.

In other words, it’s not much to look at. But the first-place winner in the Detroit by Design 2012: Detroit Riverfront Competition aims to change all this. 'The Forest', by Hyuntek Yoon and Soobum You of Atelier WHY, proposes, as the name suggests, a swath of timberland smack dab in the heart of a concrete jungle.

“We began by thinking about the project from three aspects,” Hyuntek and Soobum told TakePart. “First, we wanted to empty the site. Many things fill the city and continue to do so—the act of 'filling' is the virtue of urban development. However, a city needs space to breath and is far too compact to communicate with people and nature.”

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“We also wanted to use The Forest as a setting for fantasy and imagination. In this sense, our proposal is radical and provocative and creates another possibility for the idea of an urban park. Finally, we wanted to make the site a landmark in the city without actually building a highrise. So our proposal doesn’t have any massive structures or buildings. We used the dense forest as spatial mass, and a knoll as spatial void. This spatial contrast creates a strong visual contrast.”

The forest’s smaller components include sculptures, trails, and bridges. But the knoll is a big open space where large-scale activities, such as concerts, screenings, or theatrical performances could take place with The Forest as its backdrop. The knoll cantilevers over the river’s edge and houses an indoor visitor center.

“The knoll itself provides a semi-exterior space like a canopy,” said Hyuntek and Soobum. “It would be used as a shelter and a foyer, and in rainy and snowy weather this space can be an alternative exterior space in The Forest. In addition, it will be the most active space for night venues. The cantilever encloses the exterior space and linear waterfront pedestrian path. This is the moment that linear space transforms to vertical space and planar space.”

In keeping with the natural, meandering sense of a forest, Hyuntek and Soobum proposed using a minimal amount of signage. “Instead of physical signage, some important places will be used as a spatial signage and maps with the significant place information will be provided to visitors,” they explained.

As with most design competition entries, The Forest is a beautiful and creative solution for the site, but it may never come to fruition. But the Detroit by Design organizers had the right idea when they said that, “The people of Detroit are smart and deserve the chance to be exposed to a wide breath (sic) of ideas. We believe that knowledge and conversation can only lead to more active, aware and intentional citizens.”

What do you think of atelier WHY’s design for The Forest? Tell us in the COMMENTS.

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