Cross-plotting: Detroit to Windsor is an exhibition by a group of Master of Architecture students at the University of Michigan. The group is formulated around a research practice that investigates the unfolding circumstances of the city through full-scale-work: making is used as a means to reveal, critique, and alter the realities of our urban settings. The exhibition focuses on specific plots of land in Detroit by exploring their material and atmospheric conditions as well as their immaterial regulations, degrees of neglect, and idiosyncrasies. Each student has chosen a plot of land in Detroit and designed a container that re-frames materials from that plot within their displaced context in Windsor.
The group is collaborating with the artist-led interdisciplinary collective Broken City Lab, as well as the Creative Rights legal team. The attitudes and research practices developed for this work will inform a yearlong thesis studio.
The above brief lays the ground work for the thesis work currently being undertaken by myself and (8) other graduate students here at the University of Michigan under the leadership of our advisor, Catie Newell of Alibi Studio (http://www.cathlynnewell.com/). Do yourself a favor and check out her website to see some great projects, several of which have been featured on Archinect in the past.
The first half of our year-long thesis research culminated last week with the opening of our exhibition in Windsor, Canada. The exhibition was a collaborative effort between the entire studio and brought in quite a crowd at the opening. Next semester however, we will each be designing, fabricating and installing our own installations which will build off of the research we gathered this semester. In the pedigree of Taubman College, this thesis group will fully embrace Research Through Making.
Below are descriptions and images from each members research projects:
As economies rise and fall and industry comes and goes, there is never a seamless transition from one state of being to the next within our cities. Infrastructure outlasts industry and memory outlasts infrastructure. The ambition of this exploration is to reveal the hidden connections between industry and its workers; production and the lives of those doing the producing. These hidden connections between industry and neighborhoods are investigated and highlighted through the hidden materiality that once built industry and held it together. A materiality that only reveals itself when there is nothing left to hold together.
Architectures of Extraction
The former Continental Aluminum plant located in the northeast corner of Detroit exists in a defunct state of neglect and controversial contamination. Officially abandoned in the late ‘90s, it was home to aluminum scraping and manufacturing processes, releasing contaminants into the ground and surrounding neighborhoods. This research situates itself amid the controversy of contaminated landscapes, through the physical extraction of the site’s soil, transported across the border to Windsor. Arising from these investigations is a broader body of research seeking to define architecture’s agency within these tainted, foreign conditions that we still define as ground.
Detroit inverts how we think about the role of the city and its terrain. The use of color within the city can have the performative capacity to alter the spatial performance of the land and its surrounding context. At Jane Cooper Elementary School the colorization of the figural object on the old playground shifts our perception of a space locked between the past and present, material ruin and thriving verdure. The tension of this landscape is explored through a capsule that distorts the figural landscape through materiality and color to explore an alternative understanding of the plot.
The Belle Isle Safari Zoo closed in 2002. Although now stripped of its institutional use, the zoo is not completely sealed against human occupation. Its barriers—once carefully calibrated to control relationships between humans and animals, visitors and staff—have begun to decay and to leak. Different animals have moved in. The capsule holds swatches from fences and barriers in the zoo, removed from their sites and placed in the context of the gallery. The project re-frames both the physical material of the swatches themselves and the voids they leave behind.
Detroit train station is a perfect example to represent the urban decay, which is a representative story of the city Detroit. Focusing on the acoustic environment in space, the project aims to explore the relation between sound and space. This box tells the story of Detroit train station in sound. Two paragraphs of sounds from the past and current space travel in the respective tunnels inside the box and meet each other in the middle, which delineates the changing environment in the time. Two sounds representing the past and today are both separate and mixed since they are telling the stories of one place in different times.
The abandoned firehouse ignites a critical issue about Detroit’s value of its spaces. Unable to maintain service, it allows the physical materiality of the city to deteriorate. The firehouse is responsible for the protection of the materiality of the surrounding city. The materials here are stripped of their meaning. Their former use is no longer applicable. As a reconfigured object, they are optimized to ignited and burn, questioning the value of the material and threatening the immediate and greater city space. As a tool, it advances natural entropic tendencies of underutilized spaces and abandonment. It alters the space with fire. As a tool to shape our urban spaces, fire can radically reshape the urban environment. The existing built environment as exhibited here are inherently flammable.
Detroit's relationship to its two major water features, the Detroit River and the River Rouge are embedded with physical and invisible boundaries. True Stories is a collection of adventures in exploring these boundaries, softly prodding them through a series of expeditions to collect water samples from different areas along the water front. True Stories' ambition is to obtain geographical knowledge of the city through first-hand accounts of interfacing with everything from physical infrastructures that keep one separated from the river, to zoning and property rights that permeate our understanding of private land.
Whither Ruins investigates the treatment of architectural ruins in contexts where limited resources are available for historic preservation. The case study for the project is the Woodward East Historic District, a section of Detroit’s Brush Park that is on the National Register of Historic Places as a historically significant example of American Victorian-era architecture. The technique of latex mold making, traditionally used to make reproductions of architectural fragments, was utilized in this project as a method of preserving the character of 245 Edmund Place, a 120 year old brick mansion that has been declared a dangerous structure and will be demolished by the city of Detroit once the funds become available.
Parcels throughout the city have been stripped of their history through demolition and lack of historical documentation. These sites are able to reinvent themselves for future residents. Adjacent sites have the potential to influence the Plot, creating the framework in which the community interprets the plot itself. 1547 Atwater Street is adjacent to the Detroit Riverfront and the soon to be restored Globe building. Cleared except for flags marking infrastructure, the capsule weaves together flags representing the intertwining history of the plot and surrounding sites. It raises the question of what is best use of the site in the future.
I am a graduate student and an entrepreneur at the University of Michigan Taubman College where my studies are focused on leveraging design ideas across multiple scales and platforms. Meeting at the intersection between design, tectonics and fabrication, I am continually exploring how a design idea can navigate complex material and production systems and evolve into fully realized architectural artifacts.