Rising from the ashes ??? letting Detroit???s industrial heritage inspire a new era of design and innovation

Posted by heritageinaction on May 8, 2012 · 8 Comments 

Rising from the ashes ??? letting Detroit???s industrial heritage??inspire a new era of design and innovation

Few cities have felt the sting of urban decline more than Detroit. The city rose on the might of the industrial revolution, eventually swelling to 2 million residents at the peak of the auto industry???s growth.

But as the industrial revolution came to a close and race riots crippled the once bustling city, most of its population transferred into the suburbs or deserted the city altogether. Plants closed, businesses shuttered and many buildings throughout Detroit fell into disrepair and eventual abandonment. Nowadays, the remains of the city???s Industrial Golden Age have become a natural feature of the landscape.

Recently, Wayne State University (WSU) made plans to demolish the two-story American Beauty Electric Iron building designed by Albert Kahn, the famed German-born architect who designed many of Detroit???s notable civic buildings and industrial factories, to create an open staging area for construction vehicles working on a new $93-million biomedical research center at the adjacent site.

But Detroiters and preservationists say the city???s many vacant surface lots already detract from local efforts to create a concentrated, walkable and diverse urban environment that includes Detroit???s industrial heritage.

What is happening at the American Beauty site is only the latest dispute in a long-running series of debates between preservationists, developers and city planners, academic leaders, local authorities and community members: do they demolish a building? Do they preserve it? Or should they simply step back and allow it to slowly disintegrate.

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But I believe the whole of Detroit can be re-imagined and re-built through the remains of its architectural and industrial heritage.

In the case of the American Beauty building, the site sits adjacent to the old Dalgleish Cadillac dealership, the complex that WSU will soon be converting into its new research center. Rather than demolishing the American Beauty building, might WSU possibly conceive including the site in its design scheme?

Re-habilitating the American Beauty building as a complementing support facility for the new research centre (administrative centre, library, laboratory, design wing??? take your pick!) begins to build a small WSU biomedical ???campus???, one that may continue to develop and thrive within an area already showing great potential for design and innovation (Tech Town, NextEnergy). Integrating modern design, including state-of-the-art facilities, with the industrial framework at both sites should serve as both metaphor and inspiration for future staff and students, people who will also be challenged to create connections between the old (the human body) and the new (bionics, prostheses, medical devices etc.).

But I understand WSU???s concern: they need space for construction and a parking lot for employees once work is finished ??? So why not use any of the seven vacant lots within a block of the American Beauty building, including one kitty-corner from both sites.

I make it all sound so simple when in reality it will still be a process of financing, negotiation and compromise.

But projects like these that aim to confront new and re-occurring pressures and demands nevertheless serve to not only strengthen community-wide participation, but moreover co-operation, aiding in establishing lasting relationships with affected groups and facilitating further interest in cultural heritage, information, invention and learning.

Detroit???s cultural heritage can provide the building blocks to build a knowledge-based society, creating a premium global centre for education, research and development that will stimulate cultural engagement and awareness, contribute to long-term capacity building, cultivate community relationships/partnerships, generate revenue and support creative industries and exchange.

Detroit was once known as a city of vision. It has that vision still: to be a city of local innovation with global reach. It is recognizing the many and diverse needs and aspirations of its citizens that will finally generate new opportunities and success in its cultural, social and economic development.

Posted by: Kelly Krause

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voici un site des plus int??ressant montrant une r??flexion architecturale et urbanistique du « comment utiliser le patrimoine comme vecteur de renouveau urbain »… et ?? d??troit, aujourd’hui, il y a du boulot.

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