During the mid-1980s, spaces began to emerge across Europe where computer hackers could convene for mutual support and camaraderie. In the past few years, the idea of fostering such shared, physical spaces has been rapidly adapted by the diverse and growing community of “makers,” who seek to apply the idea of “hacking” to physical objects, processes, or anything else that can be deciphered and improved upon. Some 1,100 hackerspaces have now been established globally.
The city of Detroit has gained much national exposure of late as case study for the potential revival of declining Rust Belt cities. And from the establishing of an Emergency Financial Manager to Dan Gilbert’s master plan to create a shiny new downtown, the city has been showing early signs of a commercial and financial comeback. But flying low under this progress is Detroit’s exciting musical resurgence. (more…)
As a child, I was obsessed with the book, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. It invoked a childhood trifecta for me-runaways, mysteries to be solved, and library science (yes, I was a dorky misanthrope)-but the real kicker was that the protagonist, Claudia Kincaid, decides to run away in comfort, and chooses for refuge the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Life in a museum. Truly, nothing sounded better to this dorky misanthrope.
More than a dozen tiny doors are scattered across the storefronts and public buildings of Ann Arbor, Michigan. Created by lifelong resident and illustrator Jonathan b. Wright, the doors are frequently visited by children, adults, and surprised shoppers. Wright first built the fairy-sized doors for his daughters as he renovated his home. Beginning in 2005, he expanded the fairy doors to the family’s favorite local businesses. Today, these “urban fairies” have carved out space in much of Ann Arbor’s downtown. There’s a fairy door in the Google offices, another at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, and an intricate shelf of books in the children’s section of the Ann Arbor District Library. As Wright explains on his website, he continues to discover new doors and repair damages to existing ones.
In April 2011, a friend and I spent an afternoon searching for the doors around Main Street. I started at the Ark, a live music venue on Main Street. The fairies even have a ticket window.
The United Artists Theatre was designed by Charles Howard Crane and opened in 1928. Located less than a block from Grand Circus Park, the theater was financed by United Artists, the film company founded by Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and Charlie Chaplin. Similar to the nearby Fox Theatre, an office block was incorporated into the design. The interior of the theater was sumptuously decorated in Spanish Gothic style, with intricate ornamentation, a large chandelier, a grand staircase and a two-story circular lobby. It was rumored to be acoustically perfect. Less than half the size of the Fox Theater, the United Artists Theater generally showed first-run films with reserve seating. Films that premiered there include Gone with the Wind, the Sound of Music and Cleopatra. In the late 1960s, it shifted to adult fare and closed permanently in 1974. In 1975, the fixtures were sold at auction and the space was only thereafter sporadically used as a recording hall for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. The office tower was in use until final closure in 1984.
The history of Detroit is a well-told story, whether taught in planning classrooms as a caveat against master planning, in economic textbooks as a quintessential industrial transition, or more recently made vivid through photographs on the internet by the popular fascination with absence and decline. But less investigated is the perpetuation of decline. In Verb Crisis, Jordi Bernadó raises the question, “What if Detroit is neither going up [n]or down, but simply elsewhere?”  I postulate that we must look beyond the physical manifestations of history. Buildings and photographs convey effect, but mask the complexities of cause. In a paper for Columbia University GSAPP, I looked specifically at government complicity in the private ownership of Detroit’s historical architecture. (more…)