Student Design Summit 2020


Libraries and public universities are considered bastions of democratic space in American cities. Democratic spaces allow and inspire free speech, showcase a full range of American ideas, cultures and identities, and welcome everyone. These spaces are the descendants from our town squares and our courthouse steps. They have and continue to be been at the center of our shared history.

The 2nd Midtown Cultural Connections Student Design Summit will explore the following questions: What is the role of the Detroit Public Library and Cultural Center in the 21st century? How do Detroit’s cultural and educational institutions establish or reflect civic values? What tactics, tools, or designs can be developed to help these institutions better serve their communities? What is and where does public space fit into the mix?

The Design Summit starts with Cass Avenue in the heart of Detroit’s Cultural Center, which serves as the front door for the main branch of the Detroit Public Library (DPL), Wayne State University (WSU), and many restaurants, apartments and businesses. Working together, in partnership with other Design Summit partners including Midtown Detroit, Inc., University of Michigan, and Design Core Detroit, the Detroit Public Library and WSU are inviting students to envision innovative ways to:

  1. Build connections across and along Cass Avenue; and

  2. Create engaging and inviting public spaces where everyone—including long-time residents, students and employees, and visitors—feels welcome.


The Cultural Center Planning Initiative (CCPI) (Figure 2.) seeks to reimagine an 83-acre area bound by Cass, Warren, Brush and Ferry into a walkable, distinct public sphere that connects 12 artistic, educational and cultural institutions including the Detroit Public Library and WSU. The newly-adopted Wayne Framework highlights Cass Avenue as a “civic corridor” and identifies a “cultural axis” extending from WSU’s campus across Cass Avenue to the Detroit Public Library and other cultural institutions.


Individual students and interdisciplinary student teams will develop cutting-edge tactics, prototypes, concepts and designs, which they will showcase in a 1-2 minute video and 24’’ x 36’’ poster (provided as a PDF). All ideas should respond to the questions and objectives outlined in the overview and address existing plans (CCPI and The Wayne Framework), as well as existing historic preservation guidelines and considerations. Successful ideas will identify a particular challenge within this context and develop an appropriate and innovative solution that can be well addressed over the course of a semester.

Evaluation Criteria:

  • Is the idea clearly articulated, site specific, and aspirational?

  • Is the idea reflective of and responsive to CCPI and The Wayne Framework, and community goals?

  • Does the idea make the spaces along Cass Avenue more inviting, safer, easier to maintain and also more inclusive or democratic?

A jury will choose one (1) overall winner and three (3) category-specific winners. The four (4) winning ideas will be recognized at the student competition showcase in April 2020 and be showcased in the Detroit Public Library-Main Branch, WSU’s Undergraduate Library and Detroit’s Month of Design. Additionally, the overall winner will receive a $2,500 prize. Each category-specific winner will receive a $1,000 prize. Prizes will be divided equally among team members.

Submissions are due by 11:59 p.m. on March 31, 2020.

Jury Members:

  • Jon Cawthorne, Dean, Library System and School of Information Science, Wayne State

  • Jo Anne Mondowney, Executive Director, Detroit Public Library

  • Susan Mosey, Executive Director, Midtown Detroit, Inc.

  • Michael Rein, Associate Director for State Outreach Office of the Vice President for Government Relations, University of Michigan

  • Katy Trudeau, Deputy Director, Planning and Development Department, City of Detroit

  • Kiana Wenzell, Director of Culture & Community, Design Core Detroit


January 22, 2020 - Launch of Student Design Competition (Learn more and register)
Meet members from the Cultural Center Planning Initiative design team and leadership from Wayne State University to hear about the WSU master plan.
Location: TechTown Detroit, 440 Burroughs Street, Detroit, MI 48202

February 19, 2020 - The Future of Libraries Panel
Location: Detroit Public Library, Clara Stanton Jones Friends Auditorium (Lower Level) 5201 Woodward Avenue, Detroit, MI 48202

March 18, 2020 - Professional Resources Night
Meet professionals working in the field of urban planning, arts and cultural programming, security, and more to run your ideas by and ask questions of.
Location: Co.act Detroit, 6568 Woodward Avenue, Detroit, MI 48202

April 15, 2020 - Student Design Summit Awards Ceremony
Location: Detroit Public Library, 5201 Woodward Avenue, Detroit, MI 48202


Visit here or Contact:
A. Paul Fontaine
Program Manager, Michigan Engaging Community through the Classroom Initiative Ginsberg Center for Community Service and Learning