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Detroit Public Schools Children’s Museum in Detroit, Michigan by inFORM Studio
September 11th, 2011 by Sanjay Gangal
Article source: inFORM Studio
The Detroit Public Schools Children’s Museum breathes a fresh experimental air into the process of public education. Blessed with a diverse and significant collection of cultural and historical artifacts, the museum ventures into a pioneering effort to teach children within a new pedagogical framework that is simultaneously classroom, interactive exhibit, and gallery. The new home for the museum, a notable object of Detroit history itself, is a former 1913 Detroit Edison substation in the New Center Area of Detroit, Michigan.
The renovation and addition invokes an ambiguous relationship between building and exhibit. Evoking the historical urbanity of Detroit, additional program, cladded in cor-ten steel, engages the existing building as a wrapper. The substation, as part of the exhibit, services as both the container and contained. The newly formed roof terrace evolves from both existing and new. A courtyard is formed with boundaries that include the renovated rooftop conference/event space, an existing parapet turned picnic bench and table, two new stair towers, and a planter of trees on the northern edge which frames the historic Fisher building and GM headquarters. The bris-soleil while forming the container of the substation, defines an upper edge and layer of protection from the southern sun. A universally designed entrance ramp presents a fragment of the wrapper revealing the existing front façade. Slipping along the face of the building, visitors identify the entrance under a translucent covered exterior balcony.
Elements of new construction are intertwined with found objects exhibiting the historical process of the energy distribution in the region. Interventions within the existing structure compose an accessible circulation network that simultaneously direct attention to the pedagogical elements within the substation. A series of ramps, stairs and an elevator are delicately applied, within existing mechanical and electrical shafts, to the previously disconnected spaces, allowing a free circulation path throughout the building.
The DPS Children’s Museum’s investigation into museum curatorship and exhibit design initiates the advent of a new and innovative pedagogy. The notion of an educational institution initiating a didactic environment through the blending of exhibit within the classroom experience is a pioneering effort wrought with intellectual potential. Blessed with a diverse and significant collection of cultural, scientific, and historical artifacts, the museum speaks to an educational process of immersion, rather than erudition. After 84 years, the pedagogical model employed remains uniquely distinctive and progressive.
The biomorphic exhibit, designed to display the museums past, present and future, derives its formal character from the immersive educational process of dissection. Visitors can be expected to view, sit within and interact with the many facets the exhibit reveals through a variation of incisions within the skin. The exhibit endeavors to inform and provoke thought as a semiotic manifestation of the DPS Children’s Museum story.
A series of exhibits were developed to provide a flexible rotation of the museum’s 100,000-item collection in various themes. Clear boxes, visible from multiple sides allow objects to be presented in totality. Objects are presented devoid of a spatial orientation, and are objective in their display. Rather than having a preconceived notion of what front is, the exhibit allows for individual interpretation of what top, bottom or sides actually are. The “dufflepud” wall is a linear themed exhibit suitable for small items, vertical elements and textiles. Clear boxes are inserted into the wall at varying elevations, particular to viewpoints of children. A late programmatic development, the desire to use the gallery as event space, required the “dufflepud” to be flexibly located.
Generally the wall is situated at a point within the center of the space as an organizer for linear circulation. The initiation of a suspended track and glide system above the wall forms a more intimate space against the wall on the south side. To reclaim this area as part of the event space, the “dufflepud” slides against the gallery wall with the artifacts still on display on the north side. The implementation required easy mobility that can be accommodated by unlocking two casters and sliding it in either the expanded or compressed position in seconds.
inFORM studio is a Woman-owned, WBE certified, design based practice with three offices in Detroit, Michigan, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and New York City. Each office is fully integrated and collaborates with teams set for each project that span all three locations.
Formed in March 2000, Van Tine|Guthrie Studio of architecture quickly earned a reputation for the progressive work of the three principals, Michael L. Guthrie, Kenneth R. Van Tine, and Gina Van Tine. The firm has received continued peer recognition and community attention for design excellence in acquiring numerous state and local AIA Honor Awards, authoring the winning entry for the Bagley Street Pedestrian Bridge as part of the $120 million Michigan Department of Transportation Ambassador Gateway Project and in June of 2003, was selected as one of eight international finalists out of 1,557 entries to present at the Grand Egyptian Museum Competition Symposium in Cairo, Egypt. In 2004 the firm was invited to participate, as one of 30 firms from around the world, in the prestigious Canadian Museum of Human Rights competition and recently received an honorable mention in the world-wide competition for the Museum of Contemporary Art and Planning Exhibition in Shenzhen, China. In late 2010, a 2-phase international competition involving 47 firms from around the world was held to select an iconic pedestrian bridge design for the city of Providence, Rhode Island. The proposal submitted by inFORM studio was selected as the winning entry and is slated for completion in 2013.
In an effort to pursue a higher level of research and immerse our practice in an environmentally sustainable approach to every project, the firm formally changed the name to inFORM studio in early 2007. In March 2011,
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