Detroit, East Riverfront

Michigan, United States

Detroit, East Riverfront

Michigan, United States


We were very impressed when we learned about the expansion of Washington D.C. This urban extension had been very well documented by Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. He identified an existing creek and drafted sections across this natural geographic feature accommodating for road infrastructure, pathways, water management, ground management and components closely related to landscape design.

Through his work the inconspicuous creek widened to a riverbed accommodating the flows of transport infrastructure as well as landscape features. The amplification of the existing natural geography provided a fantastic framework for the new urban development.

What is awe-inspiring about it today is that this system still functions and is esthetically striking.

Several large scale projects we are currently developing in Europe are strongly influenced by Olmsted’s scheme and his son-in-law’s Washington D.C. development in particular.

We believe that we can adopt this vision for Detroit’s East Riverfront project. With a sort of amplified geography, an extraordinary landscape will assist in realizing all infrastructural components, main roads, parkways, and water management means, and potentially allow for management of contaminated soil.

This new landscape could not only handle contaminated soils but also environmental compensation measures. Wetlands, for instance, could be located within the framework of the amplified geography. Today the construction of a park system of this magnitude would be too onerous a task for the city by itself. However, the responsibilities could be shared. The public sector could take responsibility for one third of the surface area, to include transport infrastructure, water and material management, and compensation zones. The remaining two thirds could be concession land, and privately owned land. These zones could become collective institutional gardens.  Only a comprehensive and sensitive composition of the space will bring unity and an overall coherence to this future system of parks. 

Urban strategies, Public spaces

Detroit Riverfront Conservancy

Project Team:

MDP Michel Desvigne Paysagiste
SOM, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP ( lead consultant )
IHA, Inessa Hansch Architecte



Studies area : 52 hectares (128,4 acres)
Sketches area: 145 hectares (358,3 acres)
Reflection area: 380 hectares (939 acres)

  • Awards: 
    2019 AIA Honor Award
    ILASLA Award