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Friday, August 28, 2009

Detroit II - Architecture

Local Architecture Cincinnati goes to Detroit

The post last week, "Local Architecture Goes to Detroit," provided some examples of abandoned neighborhoods in Detroit, an effect of the population decline and migration the city has experienced. This second post is an attempt to display some of grand architecture that has decayed and may cease to exist during many of our lifetimes.

”AbandonedAbandoned Michigan Central Station and the Detroit skyline from the top floor of the tower.

Any research or observation into abandonment in Detroit is in a class of its own. It’s not very hard to find spectacular images (here and here for starters) or excellent narrative (this, this, or this) of the subject matter all over the internet, and it has now become easy to find people incapable of photography or journalism criticizing the former (the hipsters at Vice). It’s also easy to find those who fight for preservation (here and here), and those who fight for demolition (Detroit City Council, among others). What is tough to find, however, is an architectural observation and response.

Local Architecture doesn’t pretend to be journalism or artistic photography, and it doesn’t pretend to be a historical society. It’s architectural documentation of the unique cases of abandonment that infest Cincinnati and other Midwestern cities - in this case: Detroit. The intent is to arrive at a thesis that can help approach urban decay with a reasonably feasible goal and methodology.

Detroit: Abandoned Skyscrapers Downtown
David Broderick Tower (rear) is completely abandoned, as is the building in the foreground. Overall, 48 vacant buildings exist in downtown Detroit, where the office vacancy is nearly 30% (Source) ... raising the question of what to do with historical, beautiful architecture that has no foreseeable usage. Click the image to launch the photo gallery of abandoned skyscrapers.

Detroit: Abandoned Hotels Downtown
The Hotel Eddystone and the Park Avenue Hotel are both empty historically significant buildings. Click the image to launch the photo gallery of these two buildings. Comment with any input or ideas on how to utilize them.

Detroit: Abandoned Church
This is one of dozens of abandoned churches in Detroit. Not only are they architecturally significant, they are spiritually significant. Click the image to launch the churches photo gallery.

Detroit: Michigan Central Station
Michigan Central Station is the most common buildings used as an example of blight in Detroit. You've probably seen it in most major newspapers and networks at once time or another, or in movies like Naqoykatsi, and more recently Transformers. It’s overuse is indicative of the significance this building has, as one of the most beautiful train stations ever built. Click the image to launch the Michigan Central Station photo gallery.

Next week I will update the blog with the third and final section on Detroit, before I return to Cincinnati and continue my explorations there.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Local Architecture Goes to Detroit

Local Architecture Cincinnati goes to Detroit

While every post thus far on Local Architecture has dealt with urban decay as it is experienced in Cincinnati, a recent trip to Detroit put things into a perspective that had to be shared here.

The study of abandonment must convene upon Detroit at one point or another. No other city in the United States has undergone such a dramatic level of population decline, abandonment, and urban decay over the past few decades.

Detroit: Abandoned Michigan Central Station
Detroit's infamous Michigan Central Station has been completely abandoned since 1988. This building will be the subject of another post coming later this week!

As many of the posts under the research section of this site convey, industry in America has toppled and left behind an amazing amount of abandoned and decaying architecture. Detroit, the nation’s most industrious city, reflects this in a unique way. The failing industry was met with social, racial, and political tensions. Hundreds of thousands of people fled the city, and today the population is less than half of what it was in 1950 (For a detailed analysis of Detroit’s fall, visit this page). Such a dramatic “un-densification” affected every realm of the city. Factories closed doors, jobs disappeared (to this day, Detroit has over 17% unemployment) and soon after, residents left. The middle and upper classes vanished in search of suburbs and other cities, leaving behind a massive lower class with no means to maintain a city that quickly became twice the built size it needed to be.

Detroit: Abandoned Houses
An example of abandoned housing stock in Detroit.

Today, not only is nearly half of Detroit’s 138 square mile area vacant, beautiful architecture is left with no hope of use. There is simply not enough demand to sustain the amount and character of architecture. The city is a case study for methods of dealing with shrinking cities. As famous American boomtowns once existed, their counterparts exist today; cities such as Detroit, Cleveland, Buffalo, and Pittsburgh have all lost around 50% of their population over the past 50 years. The commonality that exists is the industrial based economy, the variable being the social adaptation to industrial decline. Detroit has fared worst in terms of this variable, and the photos here illustrate that..

The photos below are a few examples of urban decay in Detroit that I recently visited, along with Seicer, Gordon Bombay, and a friend and guide from OhioUrbex. Click on the images to launch the related galleries, and head over to the Photography: Detroit section for more information, and some previews of upcoming posts!

The sheer volume of abandoned homes in Detroit is the focus of the first few galleries. Some estimates put the number of vacant homes from anywhere between 10,000 to almost 50,000. Between rampant foreclosures, demolitions, and arsons, the actual count is difficult to keep. These images show that some city blocks are completely empty, some contain a few vacant homes, and still some remain occupied amidst the backdrop of urban decay.

Abandoned houses in Detroit
Urban Meadows: The abandoned and demolished neighborhoods of Detroit, MI.
Detroit has over 10,000 vacant homes. The combination of prevalent abandonments and rampant arson has led the city to purchase entire blocks and raze them. An eerie landscape of urban infrastructure dividing overgrown meadows is all the remains in some neighborhoods, like the one this gallery depicts.

Abandoned houses against the Detroit skyline
City Streetscapes: The abandoned street and cityscapes of Detroit, MI.
Similar to the “Urban Meadows” gallery above, these shots show the stark contrast between the glitzy skyline of Detroit and the abandoned neighborhoods that surround it.

Remember to check back later this week and next week for more Detroit galleries, including Michigan Central Station (pictured at the top of this page), an abandoned police station, a church, skyscrapers, factories, warehouses, and more...

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Industry - Part II

Abandoned Hudepohl Brewery, Cincinnati, Ohio
The remnants of the abandoned Hudepohl Brewery in Cincinnati, Ohio

While the first post on abandoned industry focused on the physical and existential aspects of abandonment, this post will focus on the abstract, but very real reasons that a growing group of photographers and modern “explorers” have taken to the streets, ghettos, tunnels, and ruins of urban places all over the world… There is an aesthetic to ruin that cannot be matched. In hindsight, it is ruin and decay that give life to architecture by illustrating vulnerability.

This post contains an example to illustrate the previous point. The Hudepohl Brewery in Queensgate (just west of downtown Cincinnati) sits empty today, and was partially demolished during a stalled renovation attempt. What is left today is a fragmented shell of a once major consolidated brewing operation. The remains crumble and fall into the surrounding yard and street, as the city staples a monthly “public nuisance” violation on the door.

Abandoned Hudepohl Brewery, Cincinnati, Ohio
The remnants of the abandoned Hudepohl Brewery as seen from atop the partially demolished building.

This example serves to illustrate one of the few major reasons industrial infrastructure becomes abandoned. Hudepohl was a company that failed, leaving behind a functioning, usable building. The building itself, the location, and other social reasons were not a cause for the architectural problem that was created, thus making it potentially much easier to resolve. The remains of today, however, are nothing but decaying architecture slowly slipping into an unsalvageable state.

Abandoned Hudepohl Brewery, Cincinnati, Ohio
The trashed and open to the elements interior of the abandoned Hudepohl Brewery.

It is important to view the Hudepohl Brewery as an example of what not to do. The building always had the potential to function, even after it had become abandoned. That potential was squandered rather than utilized. The brewery could have been reoccupied and utilized in some form of its capacity, rather than emptying and falling apart. The photos of Hudepohl’s current conditions show that the building is nearing the point of being unsalvageable. Given the current economic climate, this fate seems likely, and a great building may be lost for the simple reason that it is never considered.

Abandoned Hudepohl Brewery, Cincinnati, Ohio Abandoned Hudepohl Brewery, Cincinnati, Ohio
The "Hudepohl" smokestack still stands as a Cincinnati landmark (left); Some of the unsalvaged brewing equipment that remains inside the abandoned Hudepohl Brewery (right).

Peoples of the past have allowed great works of architecture to fall into decay, and only the greatest are in a “controlled” state (places like the Pyramids at Giza, the Coliseum of Rome, etc.). As the culture and economy of people change, so too does the architecture.

The current economic situation is related to a surplus of housing and false value (to what degree is debatable). This dampens the plausibility of the common successful remedy to abandoned industrial architecture observed in the Northeast and Europe, where lofts and condos fill outdated manufacturing districts, and young professionals and hipsters fill the buildings that can no longer serve any other economically viable function. These solutions may not work in places where regional housing is in no shortage. Even if cities begin to reverse trend and re-densify, it may be 100 years before a place like Queensgate (per this example) serves the necessity of providing housing.

Perhaps a conclusion is that we should not be trying to remedy these situations. Rather, we should seek to control the failure and decay, and allow the constantly changing nature of human wants and needs to take their course. Will chunks of neighborhoods slowly fall apart until nothing but ruin remains?

Cincinnati Skyline from the Hudepohl Brewery
The view of the Queen City from the roof of the Hudepohl Brewery.


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