As the slogan goes, ‘Detroit Hustles Harder’. Once the third-largest city in the United States, now Detroit is so synonymous with economic collapse and architectural ruin that the images of its decay are as clichéd as they are poignant. As the home of the US auto industry’s ‘Big Three’ – Ford, Chrysler and General Motors – Motor City relies on federal life-support, and with a population that has contracted by more than 60 per cent since 1950, Detroit has enough vacant land to accommodate Manhattan, Boston and San Francisco combined.
If ‘America is the original version of modernity’, as Jean Baudrillard believed, then Detroit offers us a vision of what the end of modernity might look like.
This year Intermediate 1 visited Detroit to confront the idea of architectural redundancy. Acting as archaeologists of the immediate future (to paraphrase Reyner Banham), our considerations uncovered misplaced artefacts, failed architectural precedents and images of past declines and future ambitions. Working in defiance of conventional architectural norms, the unit sought to design real, surreal or entirely speculative interventions within the remains of the Paris of the West.
Projects included providing a religiously inspired exodus to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula; detoxifying the city by sealing residents in the Packard Plant; stripping a suburb of all historically consonant detail; refunding citizens by allowing them to rework their houses using neighbouring buildings; redefining Gratiot Avenue through the last remaining corner store; adjusting the relative density between the suburbs and downtown through demolition; using the urban prairie to farm road-kill; restarting the Packard assembly line to disassemble the surrounding workers’ accommodation; relocating the banks along Woodward Avenue to the local police station; delivering mail by tank; allowing the most avaricious developers to fight it out; and, finally, creating a ‘living archive’ of the city housed in a reclaimed salt mine beneath East Detroit.
Monia Di Marchi
Constantino di Sambuy
Vere Van Gool
Manja Van der Worp
Radu R Macovei
Set in Detroit, the project aims to suggest the possibility of a safe enclave within the criminal landscape of the city. Based on an architectural taxonomy of crime, a series of punctuations along Woodward Avenue, the chosen site, intervene to reduce criminal opportunity. The police station at the centre of the enclave houses the seven banks along the strip in an attempt to protect the remaining capital of Detroit. In this sense, only a Neo-Fosterian architecture of atriums and glass corridors resolves the insertion. The hybrid building acts as both a symbol for a protective insertion and as a prototype for vaulted edifices in conflict-zones. Woodward Avenue becomes militarized and, speculatively, the money that enters the hybrid may never stay in the city, but only escape it.