Since its establishment in 2008, the Detroit Land Bank Authority has returned around 30,000 formerly abandoned, foreclosed, and tax-delinquent properties to private ownership. On these (and many other) lots, Detroiters have demonstrated creative forms of land stewardship, often centered around plant cultivation.

Planted on the site of nine former single-family lots currently maintained by a group of eight friends as a nature park in Detroit, Caterpillar is a long-term structure that supports both human and non-human enjoyment of the park.

Fuzzy Landmark

Caterpillar takes the form of a vaulted trellis that makes visible an intersection of paths in the park, while creating a moment of pause for enjoying framed views of foliage. A medley of native plants will grow on all levels of the vault, from understory shrubs that create immediate visual impact, to vines and trees that will transform the structure over much longer periods of time. In the meantime, the interwoven plant supports that coat the vault create a colorful and fuzzy shell that attracts human visitors.

Living Structure

The expressive structure, appearing differently in every view, stands in for the plants that will eventually overtake it – an ever-changing living structure. The design also addresses a contradiction commonly found in architectural installations: it sits lightly on the ground yet can stand as long as it is useful. Growing vines will further root the structure and give it stability over time.

Caterpillar is part of an exhibition curated for the Detroit Month of Design with 1+1+ Architects. We invited six other designers to join us in a deployment of structures, tools, and materials that deeply considers connections between human and non-human beings, specifically considering the subsurface forces shaping Detroit. The exhibition opened with a neighborhood party where all Detroiters were invited to inhabit the structures and share ideas on land stewardship across the city.

Project Team (1+1+ Architects): De Peter Yi, Matthew Crilley, Laura Marie Peterson, Sarah Peterson
Photographs by De Peter Yi

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