The Detroit Chapter of the AIA sponsored an international ideas competition for the reinvention of the downtown Detroit riverfront, DETROIT by DESIGN 2012 . A team of designers from Progressive|AE imagined the river as a site for the reinvention of Detroit as a knowledge leader in Fuel, Food, and Filtering of water. (For more detils on the entry visit


The first settlers stopped along the river for the basic needs of their time: Protection (one cannon shot would reach the opposing bank); Food (Fertile soil for farming); and Commerce (Fur trapping and trading). The river ultimately fueled the industrialization of the “Motor City”. Today, the Detroit River is the gateway to Detroit’s sustainable health, providing the framework for future leadership in water research and conservation, and fueling prosperity.

We asked What if…


The river’s edge was given back for public growth and environmental leadership? (Promote water conservancy and health)


Urban storm water infrastructure enhanced ecological functioning and served as a civic asset rather than an environmental liability? (Metabolize pollutants on site)


The river’s edge was revolutionized and had the ability to provide enough energy to power the city? (Educate the community and its leaders)


This development will become an international center for learning, research, and recreation along the waterfront. It will be utilized by school systems, universities, industries, and the community.

The concept erodes the water’s edge to create organic fingers into the water, and incorporates a “green lawn” biomorphic amphitheater that wraps the tunnel entry and port authority complex. As water flows through newly created channels it is naturally filtered through these new land forms.

Fuel: The first finger will provide slow hydro turbines to create electricity for the development. The water will also provide nutrients for growing plants to be processed into fuel (corn, switch grass, algae, etc.).

Food: As the water travels into the second finger it supports the growth of climate-appropriate food. The produce will be used for local families and restaurants. Research will be on sustainable growth, irrigation and infiltration of water.

Filter: The third finger provides a world class research facility for fresh water conservancy and treatment. The water flows into public pools and provide social zones to engage with pure water. It flows into technical and biological systems, seeking new ways to purify water sustainably.

Detroit was once recognized as an industrial leader. The Well will catapult Detroit to the forefront of research in Fuel, Food, and Filtering of water

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