Bringing a Dead House Back to Life
by KAREN DYBIS .. April 26, 2010
Drive down Moran Street on Detroit's East side, and you'll see them: those blighted, burned-out houses. They're the ones everyone films, photographs, opines about and exploits for the world to see. For much of the nation, they're what defines Detroit these days.
But on the 13000 block, you'll notice one house seems different. That is because it a living laboratory, a research project, a design center. Even if it has no electricity or running water, it is buzzing with people, construction and – dare I write it – a vision of what the city's future might look like.
This is a tale of five teachers from the University of Michigan's Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning. They each chipped in $100, bought one of Detroit's infamous eyesores and started tearing it apart.
Then, they built it back up. No, it technically isn't habitable. But it offers the viewer insights into how architects work, how housing trends develop and why this project has changed not only the neighborhood but the people who worked on it.
“I hope that our project is one example of how you can adapt the existing housing stock and make it have a use,” said Rosalyne Shieh, one of the five innovators.
Some background: The house at 13178 Moran Street by McNichols and the Davison is home to “Five Fellows: Full Scale.” That is the official name of the project, which brought together five young architects in one of the poorest communities in the city.
UM hired the five in August 2009 for a year-long fellowship. Basically, they teach at the College of Architecture and Urban Planning in Ann Arbor while doing independent research. Early on, they agreed to work together on a group project – something grand. Something local.
But to work together, they needed more space than the College's galleries allowed. They wanted to build models of their ideas, bring them to life-size or full scale. Around this time, they met husband and wife team Gina Reichert and Mitch Cope, who started Design 99, a collaboration of artists and architects based in Hamtramck. (They're also famous nationally for buying that so-called $100 house in Detroit; the resulting stories about their work got everyone hyped up about it.)
It was perfect timing, according to fellow Cathlyn Newell. A friend of a friend knew the Design 99 spouses, who encouraged the five – Newell, Ellie Abrons, Meredith Milller, Thomas Moran and Rosalyn Shieh – to buy a house in Detroit. Reichert and Cope had already scoped out properties going up for sale in an auction just days away.
So for less than the cost of a flat-screen TV, the architects had themselves a house. It was October. The house had no front door. No windows. No electricity. No plumbing. They paid to have the house next door boarded up to give them some security while on site. They added some windows. Then, they got to work.
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