In 1701, the French officer Antoine de La Mothe Cadillac founded a settlement along the river that would become the city of Detroit. Despite its importance and history, for many decades the waterfront of Detroit was a neglected remnant of the city's industrial past. Sasaki was engaged to collaborate with Detroit-based Albert Kahn Associates in reimagining a thin strip of the riverfront adjacent to the Detroit Civic Center. In addition to the site's compact size—3,000 feet long but less than 100 feet wide—there were challenges presented by the presence of the overhead People Mover light rail system that intersects the site as it snakes through downtown Detroit. The design strategy yields an elegant solution that playfully engages with this massive piece of infrastructure and references the site's maritime history.
A stepped concrete helix appears to be a coil of rope unwinding and morphing into a gently undulating serpentine seat wall. This nautical allusion has a practical side: as the seat wall meanders down the site, it weaves among the 25-foot columns supporting the People Mover above, creating a usable civic environment in what could have been dark leftover space. As an iconic image for the site, the helix is envisioned as pedestal for future major sculptural installation. Light and dark grey striped paving forms a dramatic backdrop.
Landscaped berms and groves of river birch trees recall the sylvan riverfront first encountered by French explorers more than three centuries ago. All up and down the site, a variety of commuter, tourist, and personal watercrafts dock along the waterfront as visitors and locals enjoy a reclaimed part of Detroit's natural and historic legacy.
The Main Branch of the Chicago River has a long and storied history that in many ways mirrors the development of Chicago itself. Once a meandering marshy stream, the river first became an engineered channel...