The collapse of Detroit has been a subject of fascination for artists, architects, and urbanists. In the current economic environment, the symbolism of the city’s decline threatens to overshadow the human and physical realities of the place. And while few would argue that the city will ever return to its height, it is nice to be able to show a project that disrupts the city-in-free-fall narrative, such as the new Mercury Coffee Bar, designed by Andrew Zago. No architect has been more closely associated with working on and thinking about contemporary Detroit’s plight than Zago. In his latest project, he’s created a bright, cheerful refuge in the city’s desolate landscape.
Zago characterizes Mercury Coffee as a “third wave” coffee shop, with diners representing “first wave” and Starbucks as “second wave.” Mercury specializes in fine, gourmet coffee, with each cup treated with the care of a glass of fine wine (think Intelligentsia Coffee in Chicago). The shop was opened by Todd Wickstrom, a veteran of the Slow Food Movement.
“Knowing that the second wave typically used the coffee-shop-as-living-room model for its design (vestiges of which still inform Starbucks) we sought a different atmosphere. It would be difficult to give a single phrase explaining our model, but I suppose a coffee shop as showroom is the closest. Our approach resulted in a sharp contrast to the exterior and certainly the surrounding area, but the intention was more to avoid reflecting on Detroit’s troubled physical state,” Zago wrote in an email.
The vivid interior eschews the coziness of favored by Starbucks in favor of something much more contemporary, and unique in Detroit. “The colors, taken from CMYK printing, make entering the space a palpably different experience from the rest of the city,” he wrote.
Zago doesn’t think the bar will cause anyone to forget Detroit’s condition–it’s hard to ignore the scenes out the window, after all–but he hopes to offer something other than nostalgia and the romance of ruins.
According to Wickstrom and Zago, the place has proven wildly popular. A wine bar is planned in the lower level. Detroit residents, like the rest of us, could use some cheer and a good cup of coffee.