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John Marshall Facilitates Public Feedback for Proposed Detroit Design Site

On Wednesday, October 10, 2018, the Detroit Institute of Arts and Midtown Detroit, Inc. hosted three finalists of the DIA Plaza and Midtown Cultural Connections Design Competition for a public design workshop at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History.

One of these teams includes John Marshall, PhD, Associate Professor at the Stamps School of Art and Design and the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning. Additionally, Marshall directs the Stamps School’s MDes in Integrative Design program.

John Marshall (left) with workshop participants

Part of the Agence Ter team, Marshall and Cézanne Charles are co-founders of rootoftwo, a Detroit-area based hybrid design studio. In addition to rootoftwo, the Agence Ter team includes Harley Etienne, Assistant Professor of Urban and Regional Planning at U-M’s Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning; and Akoaki, a Detroit-based architecture and design studio founded by Jean Louis Farges and Anya Sirota, Associate Professor of Architecture at at U-M’s Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning.

Members of the Agence Ter team present their proposal in June 2018. From left: Olivier Philippe (Agence Ter), Cézanne Charles (rootoftwo), Anya Sirota (Akoaki), and Harley Etienne.

The aim of the DIA Plaza and Midtown Cultural Connections Design Competition is to unite ten cultural institutions and two universities to create a connected cultural district and a town square for the surrounding neighborhoods. The finalists have been tasked with developing proposals for the 83 acre site, which will be exhibited at the DIA from January 23-April 2, 2019. They will also make public presentations on January 23, 2019 at the DIA.

During the public design workshop on October 10, the Agence Ter gathered feedback from the general public about the space through “dot voting” and a short survey.


Marshall explains the concept of dot voting as a way to generate priorities stemming from a larger concept or brainstorming session. At the public design workshop, Agence Ter used a colloquial, fun legend to prompt workshop participants. The color of the dots brought to mind a traffic signal, and were decoded accordingly:

  • Green - Go! more of this, please.
  • Yellow - Not sure, meh.
  • Red - Stop! get rid of this, please.

Insights from the dot survey were compiled onto a 13.5' diameter site model, utilizing a different “at-a-glance” cipher:

  • Squares - we’re all square with it.
  • Circles - we’re still going around on it.
  • Triangles - we want change (delta).

The voting outcomes from the workshop were also useful in creating a digital “heat map” of sorts, giving Marshall a sense of some of the major patterns and themes that emerge across the site. Research areas for the Agence Ter team included the needs of the twelve institutions housed on the site; connections to Midtown; thematic connections between institutions; transportation and mobility; connections to Detroit neighborhoods; technology; and connections to Detroit cultural organizations.


“We have to approach this opportunity with the humility to listen to the public, and with a sense of accountability for the magnitude of this responsibility,” said Marshall. “We have to go beyond being open, to be inclusive. I believe we made it to this stage of the competition, not because of what we said we would do, but how we said we would do it.”

The winning DIA Plaza and Midtown Cultural Connections Design Competition team will be announced in March 2019. Learn more:

Workshop photos by Dori Sumter.