DETxMSU: DesignThink

DETxMSU: Design Think graphic with watercolor landscape of Detroit riverfrontSummer of Hustle 2016

Students from the School of Planning, Design and Construction participated in the DETxMSU Summer of Hustle 2016 program from May 30-June 25, 2016. With support from the Quicken Loans Family of Companies, this summer 60 MSU students and faculty lived, worked, played, learned and contributed to one of the nation's most vibrant historic, yet up-and-coming, cities - Detroit. Students partnered with stakeholders throughout the City to work on projects (led by faculty) ranging from entrepreneurship and business to urban design to media production. 


Rendering for a cafe at Brush Park in DetroitThe DesignThink project included SPDC's Landscape Architecture and Environmental Design students (ranging from undergraduate to PhD), and offered them the opportunity to learn about Detroit's Sense of Place, transforming the intangibles into an urban design. This group also brought both a local and international perspective with students from Detroit and the state of Michigan, as well as Egypt, China and India. DesignThink was co-taught by Rob Dalton, PhD, Landscape Architecture assistant professor (non-tenure); and Pat Crawford, PhD, SPDC's associate director and Landscape Architecture associate professor.

DNR staff person takes students on tour of Belle Isle Park

During this one month of intensive exploration of urban design as part of the PDC 491 course, students worked on two projects:

  1. They chose a park, plaza or land parcel in Downtown or Midtown Detroit and envisioned the property with the tools of landscape architects and urban designers. 
  2. They worked for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Belle Isle, as part of the MSU Student Parks Project, and envisioned a cultural area at the park with a focus on the horse stables and formal gardens to meet their aesthetic, functional and environmental needs.

Course Learning Objectives

Live (understand Detroit context)

Rendering of a learning lab for a vacant space in Downtown Detroit.

  • Analyze the existing social and natural networks of Downtown, MidTown, and nearby neighborhoods.
    • Take inventory of and analyze Detroit’s parks and plazas.
    • Each student will carefully select one park or plaza and understand it in a deep context.
Learn (develop technical skills)
  • Blend skills across the team to compose a visual story.

Rendering of a new garden for Belle Isle park in Detroit.

    • Visually depict Detroit’s past successes, present opportunities and future goals.
    • Improve graphic abilities, including process hand graphics, sketching and digital graphics.
    • Practice presentation skills and the ability to articulate a product to the client.
  • Create a learning environment in which all involved are co-learners--there is not a universal leader or universal pawns, but a democratic classroom.
    • Each student may take leadership depending on his or her expertise.
    • Students to analyze each other’s work and provide thoughtful critique.
Stephanie skeching at Belle Isle ParkWork (move theory into practice)
  • Create a plan for site development.
  • Communicate design through graphic mediums.
  • Expand field sketching skills.
  • Learn how we each learn in our majors.
Play (develop soft skills)
  • Communicate seamlessly across professional, national, age and gender barriers.
    • Students to work and play together to develop social bonds.
  • Demonstrate understanding of the needs of Detroit’s businesses and governmental bodies in their designs (by talking with other DETxMSU teams).

Rendering for a Washington Boulevard park in Detroit.