Design Center builds the community one project at a time

The Nautilus, Fall 2003

Photo (right): The Design Center staff created interesting spaces with small children in mind when they developed the design for the Mercy Education Project.

Photo (left): The Mercy Education Project combined the expertise and collaboration of the Design Center staff, students, and members of the project team.


Now in its ninth year of operation, the School of Architecture’s Detroit Collaborative Design Center has created a range of innovative and community-friendly projects from the “hay house” in a depressed area of Detroit to a brilliant full-service community center/gymnasium for people with a range of physical abilities for Friends School on the city’s east side. Currently, the Design Center staff, headed by Director Dan Pitera, Associate Director Kathleen Teodoro and supported by project coordinators Andrew Sturm, Christina Heximer, Chris Lee and one to two architecture students per semester, are also working close to home as the lead project coordinators for the University’s ambitious Riverfront Campus and McNichols Campus renovation.

Another recent endeavor is the Mercy Education Project, a Sisters of Mercy Regional Community of Detroit-sponsored center, which opened in late September. The Design Center was challenged with a meager budget of $25,000 to design and construct an 8,000 square foot facility that houses an after-school program for young girls, tutoring for older girls and a GED and life skills preparation program for adult women in southwest Detroit. The building includes administrative offices, classrooms, tutoring “pods,” a library, and a digital technology center.

The Design Center staff conceptualized the facility with its users in mind. First, they wanted to create spaces that were inhabitable and fun for small children. They considered the kinds of places that children like to play, like under tables or under staircases, and created similar spaces in the facility. Second, they wanted to create a supportive learning environment that didn’t feel like a traditional, sometimes intimidating, educational facility. Finally, they wanted a space where the children and adults could display their artwork. So, they created a “refrigerator with magnets,” which is actually a wall where artwork can be displayed much like on the appliance in people’s kitchens. The resulting facility is friendly and inviting to all of its new inhabitants.

The Design Center develops an astounding number and variety of projects each year throughout the city. Below is a sample of recent projects that demonstrates the range of creativity offered by the Detroit Collaborative Design Center.

Shrinking Cities—An international study of Berlin/Detroit/Manchester/ Moscow. The Design Center is the co-curator of the Detroit section

Unity Temple Community/Youth Center—Youth center and meeting hall for Unity Temple on Wyoming north of McNichols.

Friends School Gymnasium for All—Design for a gym that celebrates people with a range of abilities. This is the first gym of its kind built from the ground up.

Detroit Hispanic Neighborhood Technology Access Center—Renovation of a 30,000 square foot warehouse in southwest Detroit in the main offices, service center, and technology access center for DHDC.

NPower Michigan Training Facility—An interior tenant improvement of an existing 2,450 sq. ft. office space in downtown Detroit into the NPower Michigan's headquarters and training/testing lab. Their mission is to empower non-profits to achieve their own missions by integrating the appropriate use of technology into their day-to-day work.

Russell Woods Sullivan Entry Marker + Bus Stop—Landscape design located on the corner of Davison and Livernois.