Winner announced for Detroit West Riverfront Park design competition

The Detroit RiverFront Conservancy recently announced that Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates (MVVA) has been selected as the winning firm of its international design competition to transform the 22-acre West Riverfront Park in downtown Detroit into one of the most dynamic public spaces in the world.

Since the Conservancy opened West Riverfront Park in 2014, it has become a popular destination for Detroiters and tourists alike who enjoy the park’s wide-open spaces and sweeping views of the Detroit and Windsor skylines. At 22 acres, it is comparable in size to Brooklyn Bridge Park in New York City, Maggie Daley Park in Chicago and Riverside Park in Buffalo.

“It was love at first sight when I saw the Detroit River,” said Michael Van Valkenburgh, president & CEO of Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates. “I immediately recognized that this new park could draw the city to the water’s edge. My team and I spent a lot of time exploring Detroit and meeting many Detroiters in the process. We’re looking forward to making West Riverfront Park an amazing place.”

Brooklyn Bridge Park in New York and Maggie Daley Park in Chicago are among the firm’s most notable projects. MVVA is known worldwide for its creative and unique urban design with projects that include parks, plazas, cultural institutions, colleges and universities and gardens. Clients include Princeton University, Harvard University, Wellesley College, The Menil Collection and Waterfront Toronto.

The MVVA team was made even stronger by the addition of Sir David Adjaye, principal of Adjaye Associates, who has been described in Time Magazine, as “one of the great architectural visionaries of our time.”

In 2017, Adjaye was the only architect to be named to the Time Magazine list of 100 Most Influential People. The same year, he won the London Design Medal and received a knighthood from the Queen of England. He also completed the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington DC.

The Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates team also includes Utile, Mobility in Chain (MIC), and Emmanuel Pratt. The firm’s local partners included LimnoTech (Ann Arbor), PEA (Detroit) and NTH Consultants (Northville).

“This park will have a profound impact on the lives of Detroiters and will be a regional draw for recreation,” said Mark Wallace, president & CEO, the Detroit RiverFront Conservancy. “The work that has brought us to this moment has been one of the most inclusive and transparent processes that has been undertaken in public space design anywhere.”

From its launch in 2017, the West Riverfront Park Design Competition has incorporated a unique community-led design process in which the public has been encouraged to share their ideas and input. To date, the Conservancy has held more 20 public meetings on the future of West Riverfront Park. Additionally, the Conservancy created a Community Advisory Team (CAT) of Detroiters who visited New York, Chicago and Philadelphia to bring back ideas for the future of West Riverfront Park.

The public first viewed the work of the four firms during formal presentations on February 8 at 1001 Woodward in downtown Detroit. The presentations were then followed by a two week public exhibition at which the models and renderings were on display.

The MVVA models and renderings will be on display for the next several weeks. One of the firm’s winning models will be on display in the Prentis Court at the Detroit Institute of Arts through May 6. Another model and renderings will be on display in the Wintergarden at the GM Renaissance Center through May 10.

The winning firm was selected based on the decision of the jury that the Conservancy assembled for the competition, as well as from feedback during the public exhibition of the models and renderings.

In addition to MVVA, the other firms in the final round of competition included: Gustafson Guthrie Nichol (GGN), Hood Design Studio (HDS) and James Corner Field Operations.

Next steps in bringing a transformed West Riverfront Park to fruition include the Conservancy working with MVVA to further engage the public in honing in on the final design elements of the project. Throughout this process, the Conservancy will continue to raise the funds for the estimated $50 million project.

Image Credits | Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates


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Damian Holmes is the Founder and Editor of World Landscape Architecture (WLA). He is a registered landscape architect (AILA) working in international design practice in Australia. Damian founded WLA in 2007 to provide a website for landscape architects written by landscape architects. Connect on Linkedin at