Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Centennial Park

Detroit, Michigan, USA (Current)

Although the Detroit River is one of the most powerful landscape experiences in the region and plays an important part in the city’s rich history, it remains a monotonous and monofunctional waterscape disconnected from the city, a river that is seen and not felt.

Our team’s proposal for the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Centennial Park will transform the Detroit River edge into a 22-acre waterfront park that acts as an inclusive space for civic gathering. The concept prioritizes adaptable spaces and future growth of the area, while enhancing connections between the city, park, and community throughout the evolution of the area. The shared experiences that the new waterfront will offer, like learning to swim and increased exposure to the arts, will revitalize the area and become a marker of growth and communal experience in the lives of Detroiters.

Adjaye Associates’ contribution to the scheme is a series of unique pavilions offering a variety of recreational resources. The design draws upon urban energy and poses as a mediator between the city grid and the water’s edge, while offering immersive experiences with the natural world within an urban context. The program includes The Cove, a 1.5-acre inlet and sandy beach, as well as four pavilions: Pool House with a public swimming pool, amphitheater, and family reunion center; the multi-purpose Sports House topped by rooftop basketball courts with temporary canopies; Park House for rest areas and staff facilities; and Maker House for creative development, artist studios, and pop-up shops. The pavilions are staggered along the waterfront park and unique in their designs, but recognizably parts of the same campus.

In continuation of the all-season and all-weather concept for the entire waterfront park—which can be activated in the day and at night—the pavilions are as porous or enclosed as needed, and flexible to community programming. Open areas beneath pavilion canopies create informal spaces intended to encourage lingering and leisurely activities, dually protecting from the elements while inviting play. The park will also feature a variety of plazas, promenades, gardens and lawns for concerts, festivals, and casual use.