Searching for Sugar Land

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Axonometric, Colour, Students

Searching for Sugar Land

Jaime Castilla



Searching for Sugar Land is the result of an extensive and complex research that seeks alternatives to understand and intervene in the reality that Detroit lives today.
This city has been shrinking since the 1950s. This particular urban phenomenon has left a unique landscape composed by more than 105,000 empty lots, 50,000 abandoned houses, and more than 30 square kilometers of underutilized land.
The main purpose of this project is to reorient Detroit’s future by reconnecting the urban fabric and boosting the city’s own identity through the interaction with its citizens. The project pretends to offer a global intervention in the territory according to the context of emergency and precariousness that suffers.



The city is living an important series of urban changes that are transforming the way we work and intervene on it. The new technologies are increasing our experience of the city as an amplification of our capacities to perceive and inhabit the physical and virtual environment.
The city should be connected to its citizens trough technology, making them part of the transformative process and decision making.
The project understands architecture as part of a global purpose for the city. In order to understand the architectural intervention it is necessary to adopt a multiscalar vision of the city.
This new perspective allows us to analyze different pixels of the city that coexist at different scales. As a result, we obtain an hyper-connected network of Detroit that give us a transversal view of the interventions that are taking place in the whole territory.


Mapping Detroit.

One of the first step of the project was to develop a map that shows the future landscapes that will exist in Detroit. In order to make this map it was necessary to collect all the cartographic information and digital mapping available on the internet so we could understand the real panorama of the current territory.
The final map is made by a matrix of 500×500 meters, based on the matrix of “the square mile” already used in other territorial mappings of America. Each of these “pixels” is classified according to 3 categories that determine the landscape that the “pixel” aspires to develop. (Habitability & Culture, Production & Innovation, Vegetation & Energy)
The purpose of this matrix is to obtain an accurate and flexible information about the landscape prevailing in each area. This cartographic system generates a new urban framework open and dynamic that bets on the diversity of uses and the recovery of the preexistence.
6 types of landscapes are defined for Detroit, these typologies approach the recovery of industrial zones, the reforestation of uninhabited areas or the improvement of consolidated neighborhoods among others.
Based on the division of districts made by the City Council in 2013, the project proposed the incorporation of a decentralized network for management, exchange and distribution of the resources of the city, in favor to the local needs of each neighborhood.

You will be the King of your “Hood”

Our job as professional planners has been transformed, we must act as interlocutors between the inhabitants and the city. We must create the platforms  for communication between agents. We must promote the local empowerment of users to take control to evaluate and develop their space in the city.
Thanks to the advances in the field of technology, it is possible to establish this communication channels. “Apps” will become the way to evaluate the space surround us. The user will surf trough a virtual network of the environment to connect with the physical space and other users.
When the user takes part of this developing, the city becomes a collective place in continuous planning.



The architectural proposal is marked by the inefficiency of finding a unique answer to solve the problem of the city. For this reason the “catalog” format is proposed as a flexible solution that allows activating different strategies of transformation and improvement of the urban space.
A progressive reactivation of the spaces in Detroit, according to the real needs of each neighborhood, will avoid that they become “ruins” and therefore, in obsoleted spaces, so we will give them a second chance to resurface.


Who influences you graphically?

It would be difficult to distinguish just one graphical influence. I love to dive and get lost among tons of images that Internet offers us every day. This is something that everybody does nowadays, but it is not very useful unless you save the best one or two images you found and deep on them carefully.
I believe that good references do not always has to be from a famous architect or artist, I always try to find references in everything that surround me, combining my architectural references with other disciplines like design, illustration, animation, typography, branding, photography, etc …
Here they are a few names that served me as reference over the last year: Mountain Valley (the game), Drawing architecture studio, Harry MX Wei, Interboropartners, Ecosistema Urbano, Bernard Tschumi, Enorme Studio, David Hockney, Gonzalo del Val, Officekgdvs, Guillermo Trapiello, The Underdome Guide to Energy Reform by Erik Carver, Walking city by Zuloark, Hvass&Hannibal, Pier Pleasure by Sunny Lam, John Hejduk, Relaja el Coco…

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How does the project video communicate the project in a different way than the images?

The project video offers a synthesis of the work done in a much more visual and direct way. Thanks to the effect of animation, moving images capture the attention of the viewer and drive them through the project more effectively and dynamically. On the other hand, I’ve always been amazed by the world of animation. Making this video an opportunity to learn something about this.
What dictated the option to explore the proposal as a conversation with the mayor of Detroit?
I came across to show the video as a phone call to the mayor of Detroit in order to synthesize all the information and explain it in a quick manner. This idea allowed me to present a global manifesto of intentions in a familiar way. The audio becomes the thread of the animation, while the images follow the voice to facilitate their understanding.
I wanted to share the project with the city in a way they can understand it, the video became an easy tool to get this message to Detroit community.


What dictated the choice of the color palette?

The choice of the color palette in the project was determined by the need to differ between 3 categories to analyzing the city. “Red” for Habitability and Culture, “Green” for Vegetation and Energy and “Gray” for Production and Innovation. The rest of the project documents use this color palette in order to explore and develop this graphic language.

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How important is the diagram and timeline in your case as a means of exploration and communication?

Detroit is a paradigmatic example of the urban phenomenon of “shrinking urbanism”. This diagram and timeline explores the different events that Detroit experienced throughout its history to reach the situation that is living today. This document shows as well the evolution of the population, which reached its highest level in 1950. The document gathers all the previous research of the context in the city. This phase was a necessary and indispensable work in order to elaborate a sincere project with the critical situation that Detroit lives.
What informed the choice of drawings that explores your proposal through?
Choosing drawings to define and explore the Project proposals was not easy. A global intervention in the city requires a graphic support that allows to visualize the different scenarios of the city in an horizontal form. The intervention in the city, today, should not distinguish or dispense with all the parallel stories that occur on it. The axonometric drawing of the “Hypercity” analyze a series of fragments that coexist today at different scales, thus composition of “city pixels” creates an hyperconnected network that allows us to make a transversal reading of the city and let us intervene in a global way.

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Jaime is an architect and designer based in Madrid. He studied architecture at Escuela Politécnica Superior de Arquitectura in Madrid and the Illinoins Institute of Technology in Chicago. He works in a young architecture studio and as a freelance design on his free time. He is also the co-founder of a design brand call Zoogling where he develop illustrations and designs for different projects.



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