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US exhibition at next year's Venice Biennale to focus on bringing new designs to Detroit

Nov 19, 2015

The Packard Plant is one of four sites in Detroit featured at next year's Venice Biennale.
Credit flickr user Gunner's Pixs / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

The Venice Biennale is considered the world’s top tier architecture show, and the city of Detroit will be in the spotlight when it opens next May.

That’s because the focus of the U.S. exhibition will be Detroit. The exhibit’s co-curators are Monica Ponce de Leon and Cynthia Davidson.

Ponce de Leon tells us the Venice Biennale “really is a place where people from across the world gather to understand what is happening in architecture worldwide.”

Davidson says that when she and Ponce de Leon met in 2012 they thought it would be interesting to ask American architects to do some speculative work in Detroit.

They’ve chosen to focus on four sites in Detroit: the Packard Plant, the Dequindre Cut and Eastern Market district, West Vernor Highway on the southwest end of the city, and the U.S. Postal Service building on Fort Street.

Ponce de Leon tells us those sites were selected because they represent common challenges modern cities face.

“We wanted to work on typical sites in Detroit that will help understand global problems,” she says, “and we wanted to capitalize on Detroit’s history of invention and imagination as a way of setting new models for the city of the 21st century.”

“The sites themselves all speak to the condition of the post-industrial city and the kind of transition that, not just Detroit, but many cities around the world are having to make and rethinking the nature of the city when heavy city isn’t the primary focus of the city any longer,” Davidson says.

They’re asking 12 teams consisting of dozens of designers to come up with conceptual designs for these locations, and to “understand the context of Detroit today, the reality of Detroit today, and use it as a backdrop for future speculation,” Ponce de Leon says.

She tells us they organized a series of community meetings, and when the teams visited Detroit to check out the sites they spent “a lot of time” meeting with community groups, nonprofit organizations, and business leaders and owners, “so that they’d really get a cross section of what is happening in Detroit today and use that as a catalyst for new ways of thinking about urban problems.”

The proposed designs will be put on display in Venice next May, and the two hope to raise enough money to bring the presentations to Detroit in the winter of 2017.

Monica Ponce de Leon is dean of the Taubman School of Architecture and Urban Planning at the University of Michigan, and Cynthia Davidson is the executive director of the nonprofit group Anyone Corporation and editor of the architectural journal, Log.

They tell us more about what they hope will come from the project in our conversation above.