As I walked up to Design 99, the newly opened "retail space for design
and architecture" on Joseph Campau in Hamtramck, I was reminded that this stretch of mainstreetscape is one of the most authentic, diverse and well-used in metro Detroit. And that is exactly why founder Gina Reichert chose the location.
When I met Reichert, she was recovering from her busy opening weekend over Labor Day (coinciding with the Hamtramck Festival) and calmly greeting the Hamtramck fire marshal to address issues in her newly opened storefront. Reichert is a self-effacing but extremely well-credentialed designer with degrees in architecture from both Tulane and Cranbrook, and as a recent contributor and guest editor on several MOCAD publications. The Cincinnati native is relatively new to Detroit, arriving six years ago to attend Cranbrook's Masters in Architecture program. Soon after, she met her partner and husband Mitch Cope during his Tangent Gallery days.
Design 99, a store selling objects and ideas, is the pair's latest collaboration. Considering sites in both Detroit and Hamtramck, they landed in a historic retail storefront wedged between a nail shop and a rare vacant lot because they live in and know the community. Both Reichert and Cope embrace collaboration in their disciplines, and they have identified a wide network of local resources: "people, talent, venues, tools, means and methods of production," all the result of our rich automotive and manufacturing heritage, providing design and architecture consulting services to the public, as well as an outlet for artists and designers to market their work on a "non-gallery" schedule everything on display is for sale. Design 99 hopes to be "a public face for design," encouraging all citizens, not just those trained as architects and designers, to walk in and engage.
Reichert describes Design 99 as a "store," but it is actually an ambitious hybrid something aspiring to exist between art gallery, retail store and professional design office. With any venture like this, I wondered about the influence of its likely progenitor: Storefront for Art and Architecture (SAA), founded in 1982 in New York City as a nonprofit organization committed to the advancement of innovative positions in architecture, art and design. One of the gallery's founders is former Detroiter Kyong Park, a longtime collaborator of Cope's. Reichert acknowledges the precedent, and remembers her expectation of seeing SAA for the first time, recalling the reality was somewhat disappointing. "Not to criticize their accomplishment, but it struck me as in the realm of architects," of the space with the famous Vito Acconci/Steven Holl facade. Likely the initial notions of her more magnanimous storefront began in NYC lucky for us that she waited to implement it here.
Design 99 showcases artists and architects who, like Cope and Reichert, do not want to spend their lives creating art alone in a studio, but have "one foot in the public realm and one foot in the studio." Their "curatorial" focus is small production runs of original work. Initial offerings range in scale, type and quality, very reasonably priced. Notable objects of desire include Ply Architecture of Ann Arbor's laser cut recycled paper PLY paperlights, Peter Dunn's anthropomorphic tables and lamps ($199 to $269) and Graem Whyte's vacuum-formed "Cloud Ivy Modular Growth System." Also of note is Chris Riddell's unique and charming collection of scavenged goods: "Access Excess," from $9.99 to $299.
Beyond product, Reichert hopes to provide services at the rear of the store. She intends easy access for citizens with design needs (be it a color scheme or home additions for growing immigrant families) who do not typically know how to access such services through traditional (and usually obscure and esoteric) channels. By locating in a storefront, her clients won't have to work hard to find her. Reichert plans to personally provide design services, or reach out to her network to customize a team.
As I departed back onto the hectic lunchtime sidewalks of Joseph Campau, I conclude that Design 99 is a much needed and noble experiment in a region that has lost its design ethic. It is one of many physical and programmatic initiatives that are desperately needed if we are to regain that ethic. My only (mild) criticism is, ironically, the design of the space. This is a classic shotgun retail space 13 feet wide by 95 feet long with endless ceiling height, and classic setback front entry and glass display windows. The space is rented, and Reichart worked hard to transform it to its present state. But the renovation and subtle graphics simply do not adequately communicate the intent of the vison particularly that of transparency and accessiblity. One hopes that soon sales will boom and Reichart will be able to manifest her rhetoric, which is compelling, in the architectural expression of the space. But I do recommend Design 99 to the design-starved citizens of regional Detroit: Enter and win!
Design 99 is open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday at 10022 Joseph Campau, Hamtramck; 313-576-6941 www.visitdesign99.com.
Constance Bodurow is Founding Principal of Detroit-based Design Equity Urban Design + Planning, and is currently conducting urban design research at the University of Detroit Mercy.Send comments, including your own Top 10 lists, to