2017 Whitney M. Young Jr. Award Recipient

Named for civil rights leader Whitney M. Young Jr., this award distinguishes an architect or architectural organization that embodies social responsibility and actively addresses a relevant issue, such as affordable housing, inclusiveness, or universal access.


For 23 years, the Detroit Collaborative Designer Center (DCDC) has worked tirelessly to amplify the diminished voices of all citizens through a wide variety of design projects in its hometown and across the country. A resource for over 100 organizations, many of which are community-oriented and could not otherwise affect the positive change they seek, the center has made a lasting impact on the profession through its commitment to social responsibility.

Housed in the School of Architecture at the University of Detroit Mercy, DCDC is modeled after a teaching hospital, where one to four student interns work closely with seven full-time architecture, landscape, planning, and urban design professionals. The center brings its design expertise to partners that are normally left outside of such decisions. Together they are able to define innovative architectural and urban solutions while enabling communities to face the future on their own terms.

“The community-based work of the design center grounds our mission and demonstrates to every student that architecture is in fact a service profession – we are at our best when we recognize that we are blessed with the opportunity to impact our communities as a force for empowering others,” wrote Will Wittig, AIA, dean of the School of Architecture at University of Detroit Mercy, in a letter nominating DCDC for the Whitney M. Young Jr. Award.

DCDC purposefully positioned itself in the middle of Detroit’s land use and equitable development debate and is a catalyst for driving what it calls “grassroots and grasstops” decision-making. To that end, it directed Detroit Future City - a product of the Detroit Works Project planning process – that provides a framework for guiding the city through the next 50-plus years. Through social media, a website, an active street team, community conversations, and other creative tactics, the project reached more than 90,000 Detroit residents while developing a system that cleverly blends community and technical expertise.

“The Detroit Collaborative Design Center has been instrumental to the development of the Detroit Strategic Framework Plan as well as a valued partner in ongoing participatory implementation efforts,” wrote Alexandra Bulger, Deputy Director of Detroit Future City, in a letter supporting DCDC’s nomination. “Through a commitment to meaningful, intentional, and creative engagement, DCDC continues to actively engage stakeholders where they are to foster inclusive planning processes through a multi-facetted approach.”

DCDC’s other projects run the gamut from physical structures to how-to guides for communities. In October, the completion of Skinner Playfields and Stage/Pavilion marked the completion of a senior project concept at Denby High School in the Far Eastside section of Detroit. DCDC engaged the high school’s seniors and community members, who rallied around adopting a former parks department site in an effort to redevelop it as open space. The new park includes basketball and volleyball courts, a climbing mound for children, raised garden beds, an apple orchard, and a signature 25-foot by 90-foot solar-powered stage and pavilion.

In 2013, DCDC highlighted the many lessons it has learned through its process with a series of how-to guides for communities and organizations that provide helpful tips on how to prepare grant proposals, create social media campaigns, organize clean up days, and more. Available digitally or as hard copies in English and Spanish, the two-sided guides simplify city processes and provide access to information that can often be difficult to find.

As a humble and community-focused operation, the DCDC fosters hope throughout all of Detroit and often brings together unlikely allies in a quest for positive change in the city.

“My voice rings loud because DCDC works in communities, with communities to facilitate conversations and participation,” wrote James W. Ribbron, in a letter supporting DCDC’s nomination.


Illya Azaroff, AIA, (Chair), +LAB architects, Brooklyn, New York

Hans Butzer, AIA, Butzer Architects and Urbanism, Oklahoma City

Damian Farrell, FAIA, Damian Farrell Design Group, Ann Arbor, Michigan

Jared Edgar Mcknight, Assoc. AIA, Wallace Roberts & Todd, LLC, Philadelphia

Lynn M. Perkins, AIA, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Seattle

Image credits

Detroit Collaborative Design Center

Detroit Collaborative Design Center

Livernois Storefront

Detroit Collaborative Design Center

St. Joseph Rebuild Center

Neil Alexander