The moss proposal for the former Hudson's site in Detroit: SaultBox


[moss proposed a bold, sustainable convention/retail/residential center for Downtown Detroit to fill the void where J.L. Hudson’s once stood. Read our research and process below]

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A History of Hudson’s

From 1881 to 1993, the behemoth retailer in downtown Detroit grew from humble beginnings to an enduring symbol of glamour and prosperity, to a mere pile of dust, blanketing an underground parking lot. At its peak expansion, Hudson’s stretched a full city block, and was almost the largest department store in the United States, second only to Macy’s New York City. It stretched upwards a full 25 stories, nearly 410 feet off the ground, making it the tallest department store in the world.

J.L. Hudson's

Though it drew in vendors from over 40 countries, Hudson’s wasn’t just a destination for those with deep pockets. The store, founded by J.L. Hudson, made tremendous efforts to support and involve its local community, sponsoring an annual fireworks display, hanging the world’s largest flag outside its windows and founding a Thanksgiving parade. The basement of Hudson’s was a budget store, with prices that made its wares more accessible across income brackets, and its return policy was generous, putting customer satisfaction first every time.


As Detroit’s auto industry based economy began to crumble, Hudson’s success took a dive with it, and eventually the abandoned store, last open for business in 1983, was imploded in 1998.

Now that The Motor City is experiencing many positive developments economically and culturally, we were compelled by a competition that invited us to design a new building in the spot where Hudson’s stood. The guidelines stipulated that the proposal should facilitate the rebuilding of the heart of the city, catalyzing community and economic growth, while acknowledging the context and history of the site.

Hudson’s lay between two Detroit landmarks, Grand Circus Park and Campus Martius Park, both of which are still major gathering points for Detroiters. The vacant Hudson’s site is a visual obstruction to the continued progress of the city, and is an eyesore for residents, especially those who recall the positive legacy of Hudson’s. The proposal was intended to increase foot traffic and retail activity, linking downtown detroit and the two parks and continuing to build community and prosperity.

Our Proposal: The Saultbox

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Our project is a multi-use building center with retail on the ground floor, commercial space above it and residential units on the top stories, with views overlooking landmarks Comerica Park, Detroit River and Woodward Avenue.

We are providing a gathering and event space, a craftsmanship market— symbolizing both the literal and abstract exchange of ideas as the city continues to foster innovation—and a livable space for the influx of creative professionals and entrepreneurs.

To carry on Hudson’s legacy as an international tourist attraction, both because of its sheer size and its collection of worldly goods, we wanted to include a beautiful event space that allows for international conferences, concerts and performances to draw in visitors from all over. The design of our building is also eye-catching, with a dramatic slopeing roof and sheer, geometric rock walls, and will become a tourist destination as well as reinvigorate Woodward avenue. The building is shaped to allow full sun to reach the central green boulevard and pedestrian thoroughfare.

The Detroit Salt Mines:


We approached the aesthetics of the building drawing on the incredible history of the Detroit salt mines, an extensive network of over 100 miles of excavated roads beneath the surface of the city. These mines were an important part of trade from the early 1900s through the mid 80s, and the health benefits of salt (beyond flavoring food) are reputed to be significant. The interior of the building is carved out similarly to the mines, allowing ambient light to flood the space through the top in a dynamic, undulating way to the galleria-like marketplace below.

Detroit sits on a bowl of salt, know as the Michigan Basin. It extends east to Lake Huron and south into Ohio, which is one of the world’s largest rock salt deposits. It came from a warm, shallow sea that once extended west from New York. About 400 million years ago, as the climate became drier, the basin evaporated, concentrating 1600 feet of salt in the Salina salt beds, still mined today.

The existence of rock salt in Detroit was discovered in 1895. In 1906, the Detroit Salt and Manufacturing Company, started construction on the 1,060 shaft and rock salt mine, which was completed in 1910. By 1914, the mine was producing 8,000 tons of rocks salt monthly, mainly for leather and food processing industries. Today, in partnership with the Kissner Group, the Detroit Salt Company produces ice melting products (bagged and bulk rock salt).

Humans are 60% water, and with trillions of cells, everyone is bathed in salt water. Salt is essential for human life by activating cells in all plant and animal life. It aids in metabolism and balances the volume of body fluid. Every metabolic function of the body requires salt and water. Salt has a very unique property, and in contrast to all other crystalline structures, the atomic structure of salt is not molecular, but electrical. This is what makes it so transformable.


Although salt may seem ubiquitous today, control of the supply once animated whole civilizations including where to settle, the need to conquer or be conquered. Salt, then, is a powerful metaphor for life that runs through all of history. Salt is of the Earth and the Earth provides the sustaining elements that allow physical beings to interact with each other and the world around us. Salt is essential to physical life, technically because, in solution it allows the flow of electrical impulses through the body. It is also essential to our metaphysical life, enabling the flow of energy that allows our connectedness to the universe.

Crystallized rock salt contains 84 of the 92 trace elements.  The beneficial health effects to working in salt mines was recorded in 1843, by Polish physician Dr. Boczkowski, after observing robust health of salt miners in the Wieliczka salt mine in Krakow. Salt therapy (halotherapy) works by loosening mucus, clearing lung passages & reduces inflammation, soothes skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis and helps respitory problems including asthma.

Like salt, which is essential for life and energy, the building/event center provides the community with a central location where people come together for live/work/play. This creates an energetic communal center which is essential to a fulfilling life.

Energy, Infrastructure and Air Pollution

We wanted to keep our building not only low-impact as far as energy expenditure and effect on surrounding wildlife, but we also wanted it to provide positive benefits for the downtown area—especially as air quality has been a concern of Detroit’s, particularly those with school age children, who have been developing asthma at a rate three times the national average (Detroit Future City).

Just as the salt mines have a positive effect on respiratory disorders, so too we have designed our salt mine inspired building to sequester carbon and airborne pollutants, and purify water, improving environmental quality for all Detroiters.

Energy-wise, the building is structured to encourage passive/heating cooling, a process that minimizes the need for artificial/manmade inputs to control the ambient environment, such as energy-intensive air conditioning and central heating. SaultBox is designed to capture natural light during peak hours (see diagram below), and as the sun shifts the overhangs and design structure will provide shade and natural ventilation.

An element of green infrastructure proposed in Detroit: Future City, the green roof also participates in passive cooling. Not only does it help the mitigate heat island effect (externally) it also creates a type of insulation, helping cool the rooftop and regulate indoor temperature without expending energy.

The green roof is sculpted to direct rainwater into a wetland, which functions as a natural treatment facility, improving water quality without the addition of synthetic chemicals to one of Michigan’s most valuable resources. Overflow creates a waterfall that is then connected to the proposed blue infrastructure stormwater boulevard on Woodward avenue as per Detroit: Future City.

The carpet of plants will also help with air quality, helping to absorb carbon dioxide and airborne pollutants, and providing a buffer for noise pollution, and resources to local wildlife. Balconies will exist on the top floor overlooking the slope.

For more of a visual review of our research, check out our Pinterest board for this project, where we explored materials, salt caves, Hudson’s, and other influences as we developed our building.

Below: the finished proposal, interior and exterior renderings, and a diagram of how stormwater would be rechanneled back into Detroit’s water supply.

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