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Detroit Incubator for the Avant-Garde

**AIA-DC – Unbuilt Awards Winner**

Detroit, Michigan


Type: Cultural Mixed Use

Size: 250,000sf

Project Text

The contemporary city’s ability to act as a catalyst and incubator for the creative and experimental endeavors of avant-garde is in crisis due to extreme economic pressures inflicted upon the urban environment.  This is forcing the most innovative makers and designers out of the core of our great urban centers. The Detroit Incubator for the Arts is an urban incubator aimed at attracting and supporting the critical, innovative minds and hands of the twenty-first century. The project allows artists of all pursuits to live, create, exhibit and vend within a flexible, supportive space located within the heart of downtown Detroit.  


The program for the incubator revolves around flexible spaces for all forms of making. The strategy directly links a dwelling space with a making space so that the domestic rituals are embedded into the artist’s creative exercises. Each resident artist would have their own domestic quarters, while the making spaces are communal and shared within the MAKER community. In addition to studio spaces and residences for the artist the northern quadrant of the facility is dedicated to public and educational activities for art, design, music and general making activities. This piece of the facility establishes a connection between the resident artist and the Detroit community. 


The architecture the incubator employs the technique of shifting and stepping as a method for breaking up the building’s mass in order to erode the volume’s envelope. This shifting allows for the creation of a complex sectional condition that reinforces the collective nature of the building’s program. The exterior envelope is developed as a series of community terraces where artist, students and the public can co-exists. This terracing provides dramatic views both externally to the city and internally to the community of makers.   


The site strategy for the building is to create four distinct public faces for the building that offer spatial variation. However, while each side of the historic Hudson block is addressed with a different shifting technique, this difference acts to erode the building and unite the public institution of the Detroit Public Library with the important urban artery of Woodward Avenue. This gesture is achieved by establishing a strong street wall on the Woodward elevation and then opening up the building to the library with a monumental scoop. 



Seth McDowell, Rychiee Espinosa


Photography and Images: 

©mcdowellespinosa architects

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