hustling my way to the top of the design world, one sketch at a time

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    HS Solie
    Feb 24, '13 1:58 PM EST

    So my last post has induced a lot of diverse responses and opinions...which is awesome.  As a work in progress, it is great to be able to get feedback to help me clarify and/or reframe my argument.

    As predicted, a conversation has emerged about 'ruin porn' which unfortunately has become synonymous with Detroit and will be present in any discussion surrounding the city's past/present/future. As a means to clarify my position and to try to move the discussion into more productive avenues, below is my working Thesis Statement/Manifesto.



    The city of Detroit, like many cities that saw incredible growth and expansion during the decades surrounding the Industrial Revolution, has also seen incredible decline in its absence.  While there are many factors that have contributed to the deterioration of the post-industrial city, issues discussed here will focus on haphazard building regulations, uncontrolled growth, lack of construction oversight, segregation and the rise of the renter state as the major causes of decline in the post-industrial city of Detroit. The subject of this focus will be on worker housing and through this lens, an investigation of material realities resulting from these social and economic conditions will commence. The goal of this investigation will be to reveal new architectural realities more germane to present conditions.

    This investigation will look closely at how construction methods and material practices for worker housing in Detroit were shaped, and in most cases solely determined by, the factors mentioned above.  A timeline will be drawn from the time of construction in the early 20th century to their present state of neglect. The purpose of documenting this lifecycle will be to interrogate their construction methods and subsequent decline while at the same time providing a framework for intervention. This interrogation will systematically uncover connections between the conditions that induced the artifact and allowed for its propagation, agents of abatement and finally the cultural and social paradigms which led to the artifacts current understanding as ‘ruin.’

    Drawing on the current material realities of the post-industrial neighborhood, the work will seek to conceive new construction and material processes by cultivating ‘distress’ as a working condition for architecture. Various methods including, but not limited not, [embedding], [encoding], [layering] and [active deconstruction] will be deployed as a way to reframe distress as additive or generative to architecture instead of subtractive. Once quantified, these [other]constructions will be deployed on an existing structure in the neighborhood surrounding the former Packard Automotive Plant. The work will reveal the current state of the post-industrial neighborhood not as one of decay or ‘ruin’ but as a moment of transition between one reality to another. While this transition is not one of hierarchical structure, favoring one state of being over the other, it is deeply rooted in the temporality of the community, both as a social structure and built landscape. Framed in such a way, this new reality allows us to be more than distant observers of a failed condition, but a participant in a new condition for our neighborhoods and cities alike. The nature of this participation is one not bound by past paradigms, but responsive to the post-industrial landscape.

    With other[constructions] now active in the neighborhood through a physical, site specific construct the work will again look to the past as a way to project on the present. The timeline and lifecycle of Detroit’s worker housing will be retroactively rewritten through the lens of these other[constructions]. History will diverge from its linear path and instead form an alternative trajectory through the replacement of construction methods, which were governed by haphazard building regulations and uncontrolled growth, with [other]constructions which project forward to allow for transitions between states of function, use and alternative realities belonging to the present condition.

    The success of the project will hinge on its ability to reframe current states of decay or ‘signs of distress’ as productive actors within the post-industrial neighborhood.  The goal being not to restore a past state of functionality or occupancy, but instead speculate on alternative forms of ‘being’ which are more adaptable to radically changing conditions. An important point here is that when conditions change in the neighborhood, they not only alter the physical landscape, but also the social and cultural requirements that necessitated the landscape. Conditions of program and function that were required during a previous condition might either no longer be relevant, or severely altered to conform to current conditions. In this sense propose[EXISTING], through its physical manifestations and revisionist history, will  reveal a new architecture not born from the ruins of the post-industrial landscape, but revealed from it.


    • Hey - Check out Bryan Allen's blog, Post Industrial Latent Space - he traveled the world for a year documenting cities including Detroit in various states of decay/distress. Excited to see the thesis continue to develop, the renderings are looking great.

      Feb 24, 13 2:21 pm  · 

      Thanks Michael, I will check him out right now.  

      Hope all is well.

      Feb 24, 13 5:13 pm  · 

      hsolie, I'd have plenty of questions.  At best, I'll see this study as an investigation into discovering a way of creating a new aesthetic position through the poetry of decay made by a student of architecture who is still trying to discover design at an elemental level.  PLEASE be careful of your theoretical language when you say things like "when conditions change in the neighborhood, they not only alter the physical landscape, but also the social and cultural requirements that necessitated the landscape"  It sounds like your "design" implementation is to be an impetuous of some sort to these neighborhoods.  The decay in Detroit comes from very specific, sometimes micro conditions that were about PEOPLE that made these neighborhoods.  What is the definition of "worker house"?  "Post-industrial neighborhoods"?  Where's the human element in this study if it is to have any relationship to something "social and cultural"?

      Feb 24, 13 5:16 pm  · 


      I'm curious about what the collages are about. They literally show juxtapositions of ruin photos with various objects/structures/materials. Like puzzello said, is this just an aesthetic exercise? Where is the human element? From your statement's last paragraph, I gather you're avoiding this substance by substituting a theoretically position that works outside of the human _reality_. Sure, program has changed because we don't need all the housing anymore. Sure, it's hard for a few houses to function on a city block without utilities. But I don't see these exercises creating a necessary future by the whimsical juxtaposition of new and old, decay and fresh. I feel like they are all isolated to the individual house, a micro-installation that is small and hidden. Why be so restrictive? There is opportunity to up the scale to the size of a block, or neighbourhood. If the worker house was a seed and Fordism planted 50,000 seeds - given our recent failed crop, why focus on the particular seed? Why not speculate about the crop? I don't believe Detroit and ruins are fundamentally synonymous, I believe journalism has done that. Needless to say, you are perpetuating it with your photoshops. 

      Feb 25, 13 2:25 pm  · 

       I would not try to scale up as the previous poster mentioned.  You will lose the tightness and grittiness that these images portray.  I wouldn't want to see this turn into an urban diagram session. 

      Probably worth working on a set implementable tactics if these ever want to be become inhabitable spaces.  An operational manual of how to deal with the issues of decay.  Juxtaposition shouldn't be the only way to look at this. Try to frame it as a thesis / argument.  You need to be thinking about a counter point to help calify your position.  It's too shifty right now. 

      Robert Smithson -Hotel Palenque  - A hotel that is at one time is still active, in decay, and being added onto.  Pretty sure Smithson was really high when he lectured about this in Utah but the concept stands.  

      Feb 25, 13 4:13 pm  · 

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About this Blog

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.

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