Detroit Public Schools Children's Museum

Detroit, Michigan


  • Title: Detroit Public Schools Children's Museum
  • Address: Detroit, Michigan
  • Phase: complete


Detroit, Michigan has been the subject of countless studies for regeneration, renewal of abandoned structures and urban potential all over the world.  An abandoned 1913 Detroit Edison substation site presents an opportunity for a case study to investigate a programmatic insertion as a catalyst for a deteriorating neighborhood.  The Detroit Edison substation, a notable object of Detroit history itself, is treated as an acquisition for the relocated museum. The renovation and addition invokes an ambiguous relationship between building and exhibit. Evoking the historical urbanity of Detroit, additional program, clad in cor-ten steel, engages the existing building as a wrapper.  The substation, as part of the exhibit, serves 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.

-Photography by Laszlo Regos