The Detroit Collaborative Design Center (DCDC) has been named the winner of this year’s Whitney M. Young Jr. Award by the American Institute of Architects. For the past 23 years, the Motor City-based initiative has acted as a resource for more than 100 community-oriented organizations in both its hometown and across the country, working with residents and grassroots groups to make positive decisions for their communities that might otherwise get overlooked.
Working as an arm of the University of Detroit Mercy’s School of Architecture, the DCDC was conceived as a response to Detroit's manufacturing decline and the harm that it had on the area. The DCDC participants come up with architectural and urban solutions while involving members of the surrounding community, and the organization is modeled after a teaching hospital, where seven full-time professionals with backgrounds in architecture, landscaping, planning, and urban design work with one to four students (which can be neighborhood kids, residents, business owners, government workers, and more) to collaborate on a project they’ve come up with. In the past, some of these areas of focus have included housing, businesses, recreational areas, community center, schools, and streetscapes.
The DCDC has also positioned itself in the middle of the city’s debate over land use and equitable development. To mitigate this multifaceted issue, the DCDC's approach is a “grassroots and grasstops” method, working with locals to come up with a solution that is then executed with technical expertise. One project that has greatly impacted the city was the three-year-long Detroit Future City (DFC) Strategic Framework project, made in collaboration with think tank Detroit Future City, to provide a detailed guide for decision-making by all of the city's stakeholders for the next 50 years. Utilizing avenues like social media, a dedicated website, talking to people on the street, and holding community conversations, the project reached more than 90,000 citizens, in addition to policy leaders at a local, state, and national level. The framework is backed by organizations like the Kresge Foundation, the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and was released in 2013.
After the successful implementation of the DFC Strategic Framework, the DCDC came up with a how-to guide for other communities that wish to follow suit. The digitally accessible guide, available in both English and Spanish, highlights the lessons the organization learned, explains how to prepare grant proposals, and details how to craft social media campaigns for a concept that is otherwise difficult for a layman to understand.
Other DCDC projects include built structures, including the completion of Skinner Playfields and Pavilion, a concept sourced by local Denby High School’s seniors and community members, who rallied around adopting a former parks department site to redevelop and adopt it as its own space. The new park features basketball and volleyball courts, a climbing mound for children, raised garden beds, an apple orchard, and a solar-powered stage and pavilion.
The award was established by the AIA in 1972 to honor either architects or organizations that champion a range of social issues, such as affordable housing, minority inclusion, and access for persons with disabilities. It was named after civil rights leader Whitney M. Young Jr., who was the head of the Urban League—a nonpartisan civil rights organization that advocated for the rights of African-Americans, with an emphasis on professional opportunities—and who confronted the AIA's absence of socially progressive advocacy at the Institute's 1968 National Convention.
The DCDC will be given its award and honored at the 2017 AIA National Convention in Orlando.