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Rosa Parks Transit Center opens in Detroit

Case Studies, Exteriors, Features | September 1, 2009 | By:

Detroit has something to feel good about as the new Rosa Parks Transit Center recently opened to rave reviews.

In a city that was known as the automobile transportation center of the world for much of the twentieth century, the notion of a bus terminal as the key to the future may strike some oldtime Detroiters as ironic.

Designed by Parsons Brinkerhoff, Michigan, with FTL Design Engineering Studio as consultants for the tension fabric roof, the Rosa Parks Transit Center in the heart of downtown Detroit is a crossroads of technology and transportation modes. Gathered together in a tight, triangular site are taxi stands and queuing stalls for 20 bus routes, including city, suburban and regional buses that also connect across the national border with transit in Windsor, Canada. Across the street is the second-story People Mover system that girdles the downtown core linking important buildings. A glass enclosed passenger terminal has rest areas and spaces reserved for future convenience shops.

Several sustainable aspects were built into the design: Rainwater is collected for irrigation at the bottom of each of the seven bays of trussed fabric modules. Because the transit center is located so close to the People Mover, foundations for the canopy masts were minimized by the use of “tensegrity trusses” allowing a much broader reach of the fabric roof to shelter commuters. Steel used in the construction is from a local steel fabricator. Low-energy embodied fabric roofs, fabricated by FabriTec Structures using PTFE-coated fiberglass Sheerfill 2, hover 15m above the street to provide abundant natural light.

The $22.5 million construction project was funded by the Federal Transit Authority, operated by the Detroit Department of Transportation and managed by the Detroit Economic Growth Corp.

The repetitive forms of the double conic fabric sections (one cone points down, the other points up) framed by the tensegrity trusses, establishes a lyrical rhythm in the building composition. Additional kinetic power is expressed by the tall, spindly masts that skewer the cones like enormous dividers from a giant’s map table. The result is a building that contains an enormous sense of energy and activity for such a tiny footprint, one that symbolizes a new potential for this iconic industrial town.

Bruce N. Wright, AIA, is the editor of Fabric Architecture.

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