50 Houses

September 11, 2008

So the project is called 50 Houses, and basically it looks at a neighborhood where 1000 houses once stood and only 50 are left.  The phenomenon of “Urban Prairie,” where whole blocks are just left to nature, where neighborhoods once stood but now it’s just wreckage and abandonment.  This is pretty much characterized by the city of Detroit, where a population of 3,000,000 somehow dwindled to less than 1,000,000, 2/3 of the population gone, leaving thousands, and thousands and thousands of houses abandoned.

This project looks at a solution for that, how we can take that condition and turn it into something positive as opposed to negative.  Rather than have the city doze the place, using tax payer dollars, and starting over, we choose to leave what’s left there, and not only use it but to celebrate it.  To look at it’s history, it’s past, what it went through, rather than just putting up some townhouses that we already know don’t work.  We want to somehow bring regeneration to the city and to glorify the urban prairie for what it is, to make it the new place to be.

In the 70’s, artists flocked to New York warehouses because they were seemingly unwanted, useless, nobody would dare think to live in one, and so they were cheap.  Detroit is seen in a similar light today, seen as dangerous, unfit for the average person,  seen as dirty and inhabitable.  The starving economy, ever so prevalent in Detroit, the foreclosure, the abandonment all figure into the equation, which equals really really low property values and an excess of space.

Nobody is denying the corruption in the government, nobody is denying the crime,  nobody is denying the abandonment , but we do seem to be denying the possibility that something beautiful could come from that.

In the 50 Houses project, we look at stabilizing the remaining homes in these burnt out neighborhoods, gutting the interiors, reusing everything, leaving a simple lofted space open to your suggestion and input.  A space that maintains the history of place, maintaining a certain aesthetic recognition to the past, yet completely open to your lifestyle.

Lofts were made out of warehouses because they were there, unwanted, cheap.  Today, 100 year old residential structures that are left hanging on in Detroit, beyond restoration, they are still there, they are unwanted, and they are cheap.  Instead of infilling the neighborhood with poor quality townhomes,  the fields will be left to grow natural prairie grasses, that are so prevalent in urban prairies, reading not only to the recent past, but also the days before we were even here.  In the winter, this can be harvested, converted to biofuel, and used to heat the homes.  Community gardens might pop up, providing fresh local food for the residents.  Maybe a past garage is turned into a chicken coop, providing eggs and poultry.  Maybe a park gets built out of the remains of the past buildings allowing a place for relaxation and for children to play.  Maybe a new community could grow, rich with context, rich with history, rich with creativity, sustainability, and ambition.

Yes, we can look at things with a new perspective, we can use what we already have, we can build a new America, we can build a new Detroit.  Yes we can turn what little we have, into our greatest asset.

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