Centers and Periphery: The Visual Vocabulary of Detroit’s Postwar Master Plan Publications, 1941-1951
Donald Simpson, PhD Candidate, History of Art and Architecture, University of Pittsburgh
Armed with economic and population projections and other “scientific” data, Detroit’s comprehensive postwar Master Plan addressed future land use, proposed a state of the art freeway system, public schools and playgrounds, housing and recreational developments, and other public amenities to cover the vast 132-square mile city. It also envisioned an elaborate administrative civic center and arts and educational cultural center, groupings of monumental buildings affecting less than half a square mile. Compared to their geographic and budgetary significance, these monumental centers received disproportionate attention in the Master Plan in a series of lavishly illustrated brochures and reports, in an era when picturesque schemes were supposed to have been passé. Yet even as regional planning sought to conquer the periphery, such architectural heterotopias became even more indispensable as icons in American cities like Detroit, to concisely communicate not only the traditional goals of city building but also the ideology of culture and civilization that hoped to redeem the modern metropolis.