Maladaptive Reuse: Post-Housing in Detroit
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, USA
The rapid decrease in Detroit’s population after World War II has yielded, among other things, the widespread abandonment of the single-family homes that comprise the primary form of residence in the city. Thus, as Detroit’s population fell by half between 1950 and 2000, around 12,000 homes were abandoned, representing approximately one-third of the city’s housing stock. City governments from the 1970s to the present have seen these abandoned homes as signs of blight and thereby targeted them for demolition; at the same time, however, some artists and architects have posited these homes as resources for the staging of alternative readings and visions of the city.
In this paper, I will review three post-2000 projects that have appropriated abandoned homes as sites or resources for re-design—Detroit Demolition Disneyland, in which a series of abandoned homes were clandestinely painted bright orange and converted into public art; Fire Break, in which a community design center partnered with neighborhood groups to re-purpose abandoned homes in accord with new civic desires; and the Full Scale Design Lab, in which an abandoned home was converted into a platform for architectural experimentation. These projects each comprise an example of “maladaptive reuse”: a reuse of architecture that did not suture abandoned architecture back into the city and into teleological notions of progress and development as much as it posed architecture as urban critique, enclave, or laboratory. Differentiating these projects according to their disciplinary locations and postulations of the city, the public and desirable urban futures, I will also pose them as examples of an “architecture of austerity.” As such, these projects apprehend architecture as a stage to foreground political, social or cultural possibilities that emerge in weak-market urbanism, in particular those related to a reconstituted right to the city.