Heart of Glass

MVRDV’s Seasons of Concrete Proportion

“Seasons change with the scenery; Weaving time in a tapestry Won’t you stop and remember me.” -Paul Simon 

As an emerging stalwart of residential and commercial development, FIRM Real Estate is the building block of commerce to Detroit’s historic Eastern Market. Their expressed dedication to the community and architectural memes transcend the urban landscape to the workplace’s future nexus with ‘Glass Mural,’ a distinctive, four-storey retail space and office building that marinates with the downtown vibe of the district’s vendors and local artisans.

Home to the regions’ sprawling food hub epicenter, Eastern Market’s annual ‘Murals in the Market’ festival, recognized by the Smithsonian as one of the world’s best, serves as the inspirational backdrop to the effervescence of the new 40,000 square foot glass building located at the intersection of Russell and Division Street, which currently presides as a two-storey brick structure whose key redeeming feature is a mural by an international artist DENIAL.

To preserve and advance the national treasure trove of Detroit’s cosmopolis, designated UNESCO’s first City of Design in America 2015, John Patrick, founder of ABOVE THE FOLD, serves the Glass Mural’s undertaking as a strategic liaison to bring the globally acclaimed Netherlands-based architecture and design firm MVRDV on board. “FIRM Real Estate knew they wanted to work with a Dutch architecture firm that would create an empathetic relationship between aesthetic and the interpersonal experience of the vibrant counterculture. In understanding the crucial role that urbanism plays in our daily lives and the artistic pastiche needed to conserve history and give it a new-existence, MVRDV was the dynamic choice”, reveals John Patrick.

Essentially, ‘Glass Mural’ is Eastern Market’s contemporary heartbeat to the larger agronomy that introduces a mixed-use working environment to catapult the industry and drive the economic value of existing and new businesses in the modern-day era. This sets the framework to expansive growth and encapsulates its timeless artist-centric charm built into the façade of its infrastructure.

How do you pay tribute to such a historical landmark and give it a new pulse while keeping its sensibilities?  MVRDV’s answer is to walk the line of the localities’ distinct character that constructs a proximal symbiosis between its subsistent hub and retail office space in a mnemonic manner. Just as the pairing of food-and-a fine wine, the materiality of glass and the ever-changing palate of panoramas create indelible ambrosia of the region’s narrative that reflects its past and charters its new path forward in the 21st century of architecture and design. Maintaining the mural’s visual integrity and the brick pattern requires using sheets of glass to recreate a singular image that combines a more extensive interpretation of the painting with brickwork images outstretched on all four sides of the building.

Much technological advancement has widened the scope of glass fenestration that strikes a harmonious balance between the structural and interior environment. This project’s conceptual aspects allow for a simulating invitation amid the courtship of the inside and outside surroundings to optically communicate different dimensions of observation that symbolically embody the fragility of preservation, new construction, and commerce endurance.

Marking MVRDV’s third mixed-use project in the United States and the first in the Midwest, their einfühlung comprises a stack of shifting blocks that build upon the substructure of the area’s colorful verve. Winy Maas, the first “M” in MVRDV, gives voice, “the proportions of the blocks refer and connect to the Eastern Market’s human-scale.” Maas adds, “We loved the idea of celebrating the artists who contribute to the heritage and bring so much depth of this area to life. It allows us to interact with the spirit of the neighborhood that’s playful and unexpected. Our decision to do this with glass is a practical choice that allows us to incorporate windows from the original works recreated, as well as the greater artistic freedom for an interlude of new artwork without an obstacle for other artists to work around.”

Operationally, Glass Mural will have a ground-level retail storefront, with three floors of office spaces dispersed throughout the two primary glass blocks with permanent artworks. The building can accommodate a single or multiple tenants, yet to be determined. The third block will house circulation cores and access to the roof deck, a fully occupiable amenity for office tenants.

In slight contrast with DENIAL’s work on the first block, the second block will present a newly commissioned mural by SHEEFY, one of Detroit’s top emerging artists. Unlike the other glass facades, the third block will feature a “flat façade finish” canvas that will change with the season’s tides. It will provide an opportunity for alternate artists over time to come and paint murals.

“Exemplified by MVRDV’s ubiquitous influence and technical ingenuity, Glass Mural shows how united post-industrial cities and clients across the world are in utilizing an innovative language of architecture and design that cultivates a progression of forward change”, reiterates John Patrick. “Architecture can blend in, make its mark, or do both. I think the best architecture does both.”

GLASS MURAL is more than a lifestyle, it’s a blooming destination. ☐

All images courtesy of MVRDV. 
For further information mvrdv.nl


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