Detroit International Riverwalk
Years of neglect left the Detroit riverfront a barren landscape littered with industry, derelict land, and parking lots. Access to the water’s edge from the core of the city was limited, and in many cases restricted by private land. Through a multi-phased
approach over the last 25+ years, Kahn reinvigorated the desolate and sporadic sites, replacing them with an accessible riverfront promenade dotted with larger plazas and park spaces.
Starting at the Civic Center, a 3,000-foot serpentine wall winds along the promenade, creating seating both on top and built into its length. An alternating rhythm of grassy mounds offers elevated river views while buffering the promenade from heavier traffic commotion nearby. River birch trees and white pine trees frame the riverwalk, providing year-round color and texture while restoring the landscape with native plantings. Large public artworks, such as the Underground Railroad sculpture by Ed Dwight, are also seamlessly woven into the design, telling the rich history of the city.
Kahn designed the General Motors (GM) Riverfront Plaza, which was the first piece of the larger Ambassador Bridge to MacArthur Bridge promenade developed by the Riverfront Conservancy. Littered with unknown fill from the prior industry, the
site couldn’t initially support a plaza without the threat of structural damage. Kahn engineers designed a solution that called for 12’ to 14’ of Geofoam blocking used as a foundation below the plaza to support the heaviest manufactured military vehicle
produced by GM – just in case they wanted to use the space outside of their headquarters to showcase their latest and greatest automobiles. The top of the plaza incorporates a granite world map, with GM’s manufacturing facilities illuminated in the large granite sets.
Kahn addressed additional pockets of the riverfront. Mt. Elliott Park, for instance, was disconnected from the city’s core and though it was on the river’s edge, it didn’t make use of the riverfront. Kahn renovated the park and extended it to the water’s edge through walkways and promenades, fishing piers, and interactive gathering spaces, making it a node on the Riverwalk system. A custom-designed sculpture, the “Great Lakes Beached Schooner,” ties in the rich shipbuilding history along the Detroit River and creates an interactive water display and high-energy splashpad for families.
Additional Kahn-designed sites include the Aretha Franklin Amphitheater Plaza Restoration, Watermark Park, Atwater Marina Extension, Gabriel Richard Park Green Parking Field, and the Uniroyal Promenade. Stretching for miles along the Detroit River, the entire riverfront rehabilitation project creates a pedestrian-friendly destination within the Motor City.
USA Today Best Riverwalk in the Country 2021, 2022, 2023