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From Resistance to Resilience: Reinvigoration of Wetland Ecology Along the Edge of the Detroit River

The architectural and engineering goals pursued in most cities along river edges such as Detroit during the 19th and 20th centuries, were justified for that time as they supported the rapid growth of those cities. Such goals aimed to provide flood safety, separate sewage, and facilitate trade and transportation. However, the relationship shaped between the Detroit River and the urban form around it during that time presented a conflict between two systems: the natural and the built. Civic needs fueled by the industrial revolution and an economy for growth were favored over the natural system and the ecological services that it offered. Thus, the design of these systems failed to incorporate the dynamic and spatial qualities of rivers, and urbanization during that time was basically “building on top of the environment” (Hajer et al. 2020). Such an approach created issues like the increase of an impermeable footprint that in turn increases polluted runoff that enters our waterways, the complete loss of ecosystems and habitats due to extensive armoring of the river edge, and the erasure of wetlands, which constituted the first nature of the Detroit River prior to settlement. Nowadays, the vulnerability of those engineered systems is starting to show as they reach a tipping point where they are failing in front of natural forces due to climate change. It is then necessary to anticipate the situation and build resiliency along the edge of the Detroit River through a framework of social-ecological resilience, where treating nature as a stakeholder and an ally is an inseparable part of thinking about cities, and where nature-based solutions, where the power and intelligence of nature are taken as a starting point for finding solutions. (Hajer et al. 2020)

The project came into fruition after a process of serial investigation where managing stormwater runoff on site is the structuring element. Spatial morphology is influenced by the relationship of the building to the site, and how together, they both operate as a system that elevates stormwater management and creates exciting and immersive indoor and outdoor spaces while doing so. Reducing the impervious footprint of the site and reinvigorating wetland ecology within the site and the building are some of the key design strategies within the project. Other strategies aim to increase the connection between Detroiters and the site, as well as making stormwater management a visible experience in order to create social support for an ecologically sensitive relationship between humans and the Detroit River.








Moussa Aoun

Moussa Aoun is a Master of Architecture student and an architectural professional based in Metro Detroit. Moussa is currently finishing up his studies at LTU and exploring his research interest at the intersection of architecture and ecology. What excites Moussa about being an architect is how multidisciplinary design research is. Studying and analyzing history, sociology, ecology, economics, and geography among other forces is how Moussa likes to begin any of his design work. According to Moussa, meaningful architecture is rooted in context, and context is understood by distilling the input from these different forces.

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