Last week, before I arrived in Detroit, I was talking with my boss about my plans for a weeklong getaway. Instead of choosing a sunny destination somewhere, or visiting my family (sorry, Mom), I was taking a week of vacation time to work on Imaging Detroit, a film festival and pop-up agora in Perrien Park, in the Near East Side, one of the events featured in the Detroit Design Festival.
To his understandable confusion, why would a Los Angeles architect choose to engage in a media-centered project in Detroit?
Detroit is a tricky place. And its image -- coupling lament and fetishism -- often precedes it. No mid-size city has been more frantically documented in the past 10 years. Yet its dominant portrait oscillates between post-American despair and pride on steroids. My hunch is that there is something else that is possible by harnessing the city's representational flurry.
If the city's image precedes it, why not engage the image toward the production of a new urban imaginary? Heady idea. How do we make it happen?
This Friday and Saturday The Metropolitan Observatory for Digital Culture and Representation (MODCaR) is hosting an unprecedented event: Imaging Detroit. In Detroit and on Detroit, this temporary collective happening and a public assemblage will produce a live assessment of Detroit's local and global representation.
The contemporary anthology will be both curated and untamed -- bringing together a wide spectrum of thinkers, citizens, geographers, filmmakers, artists and activists who are engaged with the construction of Detroit public persona. There will be 32 discourse jockeys, 3 disc jockeys, 51 screenings, one art collective, seven pop up snack boys, 100 books, one librarian, one performance writer, three food carts and two live media feeds.
For the event, the MODCaR team has designed and constructed four temporary pavilions that house a library, forum, gallery and screening room. After the Imaging Detroit event concludes, the ephemeral architecture MODCaR has produced will be disassembled and distributed back to the neighborhood that has hosted us.
As a non-Michigander, despite attempting neutrality, I came to the city with my own preconceptions. From all that I had heard second-hand, I wasn't expecting the support and enthusiasm that I have encountered. The 100-foot billboard that we installed in Perrien Park months ago has been adopted: neighbors have been going out to the park to mow the lawn around it. It's a reminder that architecture is about the way people engage in space; it's not about objects in a field.
As architects, we have an opportunity and responsibility to create spaces that are more than just sexy structures (Don't misunderstand: the MODCaR built projects are not just humble, they are hot). We have a charge to be curious, to research the spaces and relationships where we create built work in order to create more thoughtful frameworks for new interactions -- new imaginaries. Imaging Detroit is doing that.
I cannot think of any other place I would want to be for vacation.
The Metropolitan Observatory for Digital Cultural and Representation is a research organization interested in the representation of urban conditions and analyzing the role of visual media in its effects on cities' form, identity and culture. Their charge is to explore the complex relationship between experience, theconstructed image, meaning and the public. MODCaR is sponsored by the University of Michigan's Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning's Research on the City initiative, and directed by faculty members Anya Sirota and Mireille Roddier.
Imaging Detroit will open at 6pm September 21st and will operate until the stroke of midnight on Saturday, September 23nd, at Perrien Park (entry on corner of East Warren Avenue and Chene Street) in the Near East Side neighborhood of Detroit, Michigan.
Imaging Detroit is free and open to all program and information at: http://www.modcar.org/ImagingDetroit.html