Center of Synergy LTU's Detroit Center for Design + Technology

DCDT ribbon cutting
Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones (left) helps cut the ribbon to officially open
LTU's Detroit Center 
for Design + Technology along with LTU President Virinder Moudgil,
Architecture and Design Interim Dean 
Amy Deines, and Board of Trustees Chairman Douglas Ebert. 

New location in Midtown Detroit creates more opportunities for LTU students 

Detroit has always been in Lawrence Tech's backyard, and now it's right outside the front door.

That’s how Kristin Lusk, BAr’15, described the significance of the opening of LTU’s Detroit Center for Design + Technology (DCDT) at the Oct. 30 ribbon-cutting ceremony held in the Woodward Willis Building at 4219 Woodward Ave. 

The DCDT is the anchor tenant in the new building at the corner of Woodward and Willis in Midtown Detroit. It has a long-term lease on 8,000 square feet, and plans are in place to add up to 6,000 square feet as future needs develop.

Lusk is on the DCDT staff as the coordinator of outreach efforts for K-12 STEM education in Detroit, just one of several LTU programs that will be more effective at the new location in the heart of the city.

The DCDT opening also represented a homecoming for the University. Lawrence Tech was founded in 1932 on the grounds of the Ford Model T plant on Woodward Avenue in Highland Park, less than five miles north of LTU’s new location in Midtown Detroit.

The Midtown location also gives the University a much higher profile as thousands of city dwellers and commuters will pass by the center every day. The new M-1 rail will also be right out the front door, and there are a number of new construction and redevelopment projects in the neighborhood. 

By bringing several of the College of Architecture and Design’s urban programs together, LTU’s Detroit Center for Design + Technology will provide: 
• An urban setting for University courses in urban design, architecture, graphic design, and industrial design.
• A permanent exhibition space for the presentation of contemporary ideas in architecture and design.
• A new design incubator that will help entrepreneurs turn their design-based ideas into new businesses.
• Support for LTU’s outreach to STEM- and STEAM-oriented schools in the region.
• A common meeting place for LTU students and other DCDT tenants involved in architecture, design, engineering, and development. 


Making the move downtown 
For the past two years, the planning to make the DCDT a reality has been led by Professor Amy Deines, first in her role as associate dean of the College of Architecture and Design and now in her new role as interim dean. 

"We feel there is a dramatic cultural shift taking place that will support the major commitment LTU is making to the revitalization of Detroit," said Deines, who is also executive director of the DCDT. 

The creation of the center has been the result of strong support from several partners. Midtown Detroit Inc., under the leadership of Sue Mosey, put together the $7 million construction project with LTU as the anchor tenant. The Kresge Foundation got the ball rolling with a grant of $300,000. The Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan added $50,000 for programming, and the Hudson-Webber Foundation awarded a $300,000 grant to support the new Design Incubator.

The vision that Deines has defined for the center is on the wall in the lobby for all to see: “Our goal is to actively engage the civic and social awareness of our students and give them opportunities to become involved in projects that will have a positive impact on the city and its residents.

Deines estimates that close to 100 LTU students will be taking classes at DCDT on a weekly basis during the spring semester that begins in January. They will have many opportunities to cross paths with the center’s other tenants – Invest Detroit, AIA Michigan, AIA Detroit, SME, the Urban Land Institute of Detroit, and the local chapter of the National Organization of Minority Architects.

“It is unique for an architecture and design school to have such a strong physical connection with professional associations and firms,” Deines said. “We forged these relationships to bring future architects into contact with like-minded professional people. We can’t anticipate all the connections that will be made, but we expect it to be an enriching educational experience for our students.”

Detroit-based studios
For more than four decades, professors in LTU’s College of Architecture and Design have conducted studios in Detroit to give students an added appreciation of urban issues. The center creates new synergies by bringing all its Detroit-based courses together under one roof. “Having these programs housed in multiple locations has inhibited the synergy among them and lowered their potential community impact,” Deines said. 

The highly regarded Detroit Studio was founded in 1999 to serve neighborhoods, the design professions, and citizens, and for many years the University had studio space on West Grand Boulevard.  Directed by Professor Joongsub Kim, LTU’s longest-running studio course based in Detroit provides students with an enriched educational experience through architectural, urban design, and local development projects pursued in partnership with community groups in need of design ideas. 

In keeping with LTU’s theory-and-practice motto, these students learn about urban design by practicing it in a real-world setting in Detroit or a nearby suburb. In the process, the students provide valuable information and proposals to neighborhood groups, municipalities, and the business community. 

“Through the Detroit Studio our students can help stimulate urban economic development and propose possible solutions to critical urban problems,” Kim said. “Our students often develop mutually beneficial relationships with community stakeholders and citizens.” 

In recent years, the College of Architecture and Design opened a downtown exhibition gallery and DetroitSHOP, an interdisciplinary design studio that partners with private-sector and corporate leaders to explore longrange visions for the city’s urban core. Professors have also held studios at Ponyride, a business incubator in Corktown.

Students are motivated to participate in Detroit-based studio courses by the desire to see firsthand what they are studying while also participating in Detroit’s growing arts and cultural scene. When these students are given the opportunity to try to make a difference in the lives of disadvantaged communities, they end up big winners because the experience they gain in the real world enhances their education in the classroom. 

“DetroitSHOP was my favorite experience as an undergraduate,” Lusk said of the studio course she took in the city. “You’re completely immersed in the culture and you actually have a presence in the space you are designing. You get faceto-face connections, political background, economic and social aspects as you walk around. You’re invested in the culture you see on the street.”

This fall graduate student Gjergji Prendi, BSAr’14, who is the student government president, took the detroitSHOP design studio that was in a temporary space downtown. He valued the tangible connection to Detroit’s urban environment that the course provided, and thinks the new center will make that experience even more valuable. 

 “DCDT is not only a physical space that connects us with Detroit, but it is also provides an intangible opportunity that I think every LTU student needs to grasp,” said Prendi, who attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony. 

Adding new programs
The center will also enhance the academic programming that faculty members provide to elementary and high school students in Detroit. At Denby High School, pre-architecture courses are taught by LTU faculty members, providing math and art credits. The outreach project is to encourage interest in architecture while also helping high school students to prepare for the big academic jump to college.

That preparation will begin even earlier at the Sampson- Webber Leadership Academy. Over the summer LTU and the Detroit Public Schools announced the Blue Devil Scholars program for providing instruction in science, technology, engineering, art, and math, the STEAM subjects, to middle school students. Plans are underway to include younger students in the future.

“We are confident that students who successfully complete the Blue Devil Scholars program will be well prepared to do well in challenging college courses as soon as they arrive on campus as freshmen,” LTU President Virinder Moudgil said.

Beginning in early 2016, LTU’s DCDT Design Incubator will provide programs and services to help creative businesses grow in Detroit. It will leverage the DCDT’s connections with the Midtown community and other Detroit neighborhoods to help those businesses grow and thrive. It will offer access to legal advice, marketing resources, and mentorship for business startups.

“Whether an entrepreneur is just starting out or has hit a growth ceiling and wants to move beyond that, the incubator program will provide access to resources,” said Karen Evans, the director of the Design Incubator.    

LTU’s Design Incubator will also launch a fellowship program to encourage recent college graduates to start businesses and take up residence in Detroit.    

The DCDT also has a gallery that will host student and faculty exhibitions, community outreach exhibitions, and the works of professionals recognized in their fields. The focus of the DCDT exhibition space will be to broaden the visual experience of the LTU community and people of Detroit.      

“Ultimately, our goal is to foster learning and collaboration, and to encourage dialog about society and our diverse cultural landscape,” said LTU Assistant Professor Deirdre Hennebury, who will serve as curator of the exhibit space. 
LTU's role in the region
Beyond all the benefits in academic programming, Deines and the other supporters expect the DCDT to increase LTU’s involvement in the search for regional solutions to the challenges facing Detroit and the southeast Michigan region.

There are plans to establish an applied research institute and the DCDT Think Tank, which will be composed of leading scholars and innovators in the region. This group of Design Fellows will provide guidance for research, help develop alternate visions for the future of Detroit and the region, and propose strategies for solving urban and regional problems.    

“The problems, issues, and solutions that Detroit must confront are, as in most cities, regional in nature.  The environment, infrastructure, transportation, taxation, and education are but a few of the issues that defy historic city or county government boundaries,” Deines said. “Now that LTU has a presence in downtown Detroit in addition to the strong role it plays in Southfield and Oakland County, we expect to be part of all those conversations.”