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The House Opera Project: Help Fund a New Public Space in Detroit

A new project in Detroit aims to repurpose a vacant house into a public performance space – but it needs your help. House Opera is the result of a collaboration between V. Mitch McEwen and her partner at A(n) Office, Marcelo Lopez-Dinardi. After McEwen purchased a vacant, stripped down house from the city of Detroit two and a half years ago, the two began removing elements of the “house” in order to transform it into an open theater space, meant to showcase Detroit storytelling.

Joined by Detroit curators and community organizers, as well as design and art collaborators from around the country, the project has received a $10,000 Knight Arts Challenge grant to fund half of the project. But support is needed to fund the other half. They have launched a fundraiser, which ends on July 2, 2015 12:59 AM, and donations can be made here. Learn more about the project after the break.

Through Bankruptcy and Boom: What's Really Happening in Detroit?

After exiting bankruptcy at the end of last year, Detroit has suddenly become something of a boomtown in the eyes of the media. Discourse now talks about Detroit Rising, the "Post-Post-Apocalyptic Detroit". Rents are rising, private investment is flowing into the city, and institutions that left the city for the affluent suburbs are now relocating back into Detroit proper. Too long used only as a cautionary tale, the new focus on the reality of Detroit and free flowing money opens the door for architects and urban planners, not to mention the wider community, to begin thinking about how they want to rebuild Detroit, and who they want to rebuild it for.

It’s the perfect opportunity to formulate plans that will genuinely aid Detroit, involve the community and create a revival that really achieves something. But as it stands, the "revival" forming in Detroit, aided and abetted by media coverage, will not improve conditions for the vast majority of Detroiters and will not create a sustainable platform for future growth, instead benefiting only the private investors and those rich enough to benefit from what is currently classic, by-the-book gentrification.

Renaissance Centre, a previous attempt to revitalise Detroit. Image © Flickr user paul bica An abandoned Detroit house. Image © Wikimedia user Notorious4life Detroit's Brush Park neighbourhood in Midtown. Image ©  Flickr user Stephen Harlan Detroit's ExpressTram. Image © Wikimedia user Danleo

Design Needs a Social Conscience

In recent years, the architecture world has seen a significant surge of interest in socially-conscious design; from sustainability to social housing, and from public space to disaster relief, architecture is beginning to take on some of the biggest humanitarian challenges of our era. But despite its popularity, public-interest design is still only a fringe activity in architecture, either bolted on to existing design or only practiced by a select group of people. In this short article originally published by Metropolis Magazine, Metropolis Editor-in-Chief Susan Szenasy makes the case that rather than working on the periphery, "the drive to improve living conditions for all life should be at the center of contemporary architecture and design."

On a bright April weekend, a group of committed, passionate, accomplished designers and their collaborators from the Americas and elsewhere gathered in downtown Detroit to speak about socially responsible design. It was the 15th annual Structures for Inclusion conference. The convener, Bryan Bell, is the architect behind the nonprofit organization Design Corps, and the spirit behind the SEED (Social Economic Environmental Design) rating program.

Winning Proposals "Reanimate the Ruins" of Detroit's Packard Motor Plant

Ecological Engineering Center Detroit. Image Courtesy of Parallel Projections
Ecological Engineering Center Detroit. Image Courtesy of Parallel Projections

Parallel Projections has announced the winners of the Reanimate the Ruins competition, an international challenge to redesign and memorialize Detroit's historic Packard Motor Plant. The competition called for designers to simultaneously honor Detroit's history, while envisioning a future of technological, social, and aesthetic healing.

This year's jury has selected three winners and six honorable mentions. Read more after the break to explore the award-winning proposals. 

Dichotomy Journal Plays the Odds: Open Call for Submissions on Taking Architectural Risks

University of Detroit Mercy's Dichotomy Journal has issued an open call for submissions to its 21st edition on the theme of "Odds," inviting discussion on projects that "defy the status quo and aim for greater fortune." Risk takers rejoice: Dichotomy 21 will shine a spotlight on architectural anomalies and the "implications of defying the odds and embracing the strange." The journal aims to stimulate a new discourse on extraordinary and unconventional designs that push the architectural envelope. Submissions are invited to discuss ideas defying the odds in design, architecture, urbanism and community development.

Nadau Lavergne Architects Present Proposal to Revitalize Detroit's Decaying Packard Plant

Nadau Lavergne Architects, the winning team of the Reanimate the Ruins international ideas contest, have shared with us their proposal to revive Detroit's historic Packard Automotive Plant, the former factory which has become an icon of the city's post-industrial decline. By developing a proposal which frees the land from unwanted structures and knits the colossal 1 kilometer-long building back into the urban landscape, Nadau Lavergne Architects have created a design which returns both a sense of community and some economic hope back to the building.

Read more about the proposal after the break

Attracting people to the neighborhood and providing opportunity for further development. Image Courtesy of Nadau Lavergne Architects Overall view of the site. Image Courtesy of Nadau Lavergne Architects Opening up the site. Image Courtesy of Nadau Lavergne Architects Connecting elements of the site with public transport and reinvesting in the neighborhood. Image Courtesy of Nadau Lavergne Architects

Lowe Campbell Ewald Headquarters / Neumann/Smith Architecture

  • Architects: Neumann/Smith Architecture
  • Location: 2000 Brush Street #601, Detroit, MI 48226, USA
  • Area: 122000.0 ft2
  • Project Year: 2014
  • Photographs: Justin Maconochie

© Justin Maconochie © Justin Maconochie © Justin Maconochie © Justin Maconochie

Beyond Ruin Porn: What's Behind Our Obsession with Decay?

Lately, architects are sharing an increasing captivation with ruins. As our technologies for envisioning the buildings of the future become ever-more accurate – enabling us not only to walk through, hover over, and inhabit walls, but also to calculate exact quantities of materials, structural load capacities and costs – our fascination for ruin, a process that is governed by laws of nature and time in a manner that is spatially unpredictable and rarely uniform, has also seen a rise in popularity.

Blogs such as Ruin Porn, Abandoned America and Architecture of Doom draw from a recent sub-genre of photography, identified as ‘ruins photography’ or ‘ruin porn’. While buildings can go into decay for many reasons, these images tend to focus on urban decay, especially in cities such as Detroit, Chicago and Berlin, which saw a surge of industrialization in the last century that has since dwindled.

Could Detroit's Most Remarkable Ruin Finally Have a Future?

Originally posted on the Huffington Post's Home Section as "How a Historic Movie Palace Became America's Most Unusual Parking Garage," this article tells of both the history and the possible future of the Michigan Theater - once one of Detroit's most opulent nights out, but now a crumbling (albeit oddly magnificent) parking garage. Emblematic of the city's rapid decline, it turns out the recently-purchased Michigan Theater may also be a symbol of the city's regeneration.

An inventor's workshop. A movie palace. A rock club. A car park. A skate park. The backdrop for Eminem videos. Now it's one of America's strangest parking garages, but a peek inside the Michigan Theatre reveals why it's remained a landmark -- and has a unique story that explains a lot about the importance of preserving cities' historic architecture.

The former theater is attached to the Michigan Building, a partially occupied office tower, and might look familiar to some who have sought out urban decay photos. There's something radically visceral about cars parked in the garage under the crumbling but ornately decorated ceilings of the site that in its heyday hosted legends like the Marx Brothers, Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong and Doris Day.

Read more on the theater's unusual, inspiring story after the break

Reanimate the Ruins International Design Competition

Once the fourth largest city in America, Michigan’s primary Metropolis, Detroit has recently filed the largest municipal bankruptcy in the history of the United States.  Among the many reasons for Detroit’s decline, two stand out: an undiversified economic model, reliant on the production and sale of automobiles, and an unprecedented degree of sprawl. Currently more than 77% of jobs in the metropolitan area reside more than ten miles from the city center, making Detroit the most job-sprawled city in the US and stretching city services beyond capacity.  Detroit’s deterioration is just as much about urban decline as it is about industrial decline.  Detroit is located in the Midwest portion of the United States and is part of a larger band of cities known as the Rust Belt which have gone through a process of decline over the past decades.

A Vertical City for Suburban Detroit Places in eVolo Skyscraper Competition

CAR and SHELL or Marinetti’s Monster, recently awarded second place in the 2014 eVolo Skyscraper Competition, asks pertinent questions about an "insatiable" desire for growth in urban centres. Based on the premise that we "can no longer stand idly by and watch our cities consume themselves with an anxious need for expansion", Daniel Markiewicz and Mark Talbot's proposal seeks to demonstrate what a "city in the sky" could look like in suburban DetroitThe project is conceived as a vertical neighbourhood, or "a rich vertical urban fabric." Three main grids (streets, pedestrian pathways, and structure) are intertwined to create a box-shaped wireframe to which traditional/contemporary houses and other diverse programs (such as recreational and commercial areas) can be plugged in.

AD Classics: Lafayette Park / Mies van der Rohe

Situated at the eastern edge of Downtown Detroit, Lafayette Park constitutes the world's largest collection of buildings designed by Mies van der Rohe. The 78-acre complex was completed in 1959, just after Crown Hall and the Seagram Building. It is not as well known as several Mies projects of that decade, however, and many critics argue the project deserves greater recognition. One of the first examples of urban renewal, it is a testament to the development's design that it remains a vibrant neighborhood more than fifty years after its construction.

Detroit Considering Converting Freeway to Pedestrian Street

According to John Gallagher of the Detroit Free Press, Detroit may soon be removing one of its downtown freeways, the I-375, and converting the trench-like road into a more pedestrian friendly surface level street. The change could be a boon to residents of nearby areas such as Lafayette Park and Eastern Market, which were cut off when the road was built in 1964, and follows a wider trend of cities removing freeways in order to regenerate downtown areas. The city government is currently working with major stakeholders to investigate the potential effects of the change, with a proposal due for summer 2014. You can read the full article here.

SHoP Architects Selected for Design of Iconic Site in Downtown Detroit

One of Detroit's most prominent vacant sites is slated to become one of its most iconic buildings. SHoP Architects will partner with Detroit-based Hamilton Anderson Associates to transform the site formerly occupied by Hudson's Department Store. Located at Grand River and Gratiot in the city's Central Business District, the two-acre site has remained a scar in the urban landscape since the implosion of the Hudson's building in 1998. 

The Sustainable Initiatives Deconstructing Detroit

As architects we generally see ourselves as providers of new buildings; we also often see architecture as a way to remedy social ills. For many architects, when presented with a social problem, we try to think of a design for a building which addresses it. But what happens when the problem itself is a surplus of buildings?

This is exactly the situation that Detroit finds itself in today. Thanks to the rapid decline in population since its heyday in the mid 20th Century, the City of Detroit is home to some 78,000 vacant structures. While politicians worldwide win public support by promising new construction and growth, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing proudly announced his plans to demolish 10,000 empty homes before the end of his term.

The process will be inherently wasteful. Fortunately, some are making the best of the situation, with sustainable initiatives that create jobs and economic benefits for residents. Read on after the break to find out how.

It's Time to Envision A Better Built Detroit. Are Architects Ready?

There is an intimate connection between people, power, poverty and place and there is no better city in the world to see this than Detroit. With the impending bankruptcy we cannot lose sight of the human issues that face our city.

For decades money and power have moved away from Detroit’s center. The complex reasons for this are well known so there is no need to rehash them here. Even in the face of city government’s failure to manage its assets properly, this is changing. There is slow and halting movement back to the center.The movement back to the center is a good thing for many reasons. It will help bolster the tax base and that is the basic financial problem the city faces. But more importantly it will create a stronger spatial connection between power and poverty that we haven’t had in this region for a century.

Power will see poverty and poverty power. They will feel each other’s existence. They will see the humanity of each side and be nudged to recognize the shared responsibility caring for this shared place. This is how successful vital, dense urban cities operate. There is an acceptance of diversity on all levels. Barriers are reduced and human interaction encouraged. This is how creativity is bred. Exposure to diverse people, places and ideas excite and promote the imagination and a sense of the common good that includes everyone.

Why Bankruptcy May Be the Best Thing for Detroit

While the rest of the world scoffs at Detroit’s recent announcement of bankruptcy (using it as an opportunity to bemoan how far the city - and the country - has fallen since its golden Motown days), many Detroiters themselves are embracing the move as a long overdue turning point.

Like Las Vegas, undergoing an urban patronage from Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, Detroit has similarly been the focus of its own CEO: native-Detroiter and Quicken founder Dan Gilbert. By channeling over $1 billion dollars into the city, and inspiring others to follow suit, Gilbert is helping Detroit attract young, tech-savvy entrepreneurs. Throw in the lure of cheap land/rental rates, and it’s no wonder the city’s is host to a burgeoning tech scene.  

The only thing that’s been getting in these techies' way - is the city itself. Which is why many are hopeful that Detroit’s bankruptcy is just the beginning. 

More after the break...

'Redesigning Detroit: A New Vision for an Iconic Site' Competition Entry / H Architecture

The Incubator Matrix: Live/Work/Play proposal for the Redesigning Detroit: A New Vision for an Iconic Site competition consists of a facility for a new industrial ecosystem to revitalize downtown Detroit. Designed by H Architecture, their design is a live/work station for high-tech start-up companies and creative young artists to continuously challenge each other and spark innovation. More images and architects’ description after the break.