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Puttin' On the Ritz: Danish Architects to Give Derelict Motown a Facelift

© AFP 2023 / Joshua LOTTCurtains flap outside the broken window of an abandoned home December 31, 2014 in Detroit, Michigan.
Curtains flap outside the broken window of an abandoned home December 31, 2014 in Detroit, Michigan. - Sputnik International
Once the proud capital of the US automobile industry, Detroit has gone from bad to worse since the 1960s, its population fleeing and parts of the city crumbling into ruins. Today, Danish architects intend to restore the Motor City to its former glory.

The renowned Danish architecture firm Schmidt Hammer Lassen plans to take part in the ambitious project of establishing a brand-new city center in Detroit, the largest city in the state of Michigan and the largest US city to ever file for bankruptcy.

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In the 1950s, Detroit's population peaked at almost 2 million people. In 2015, two years after the city's bankruptcy its population fell below 700,000, indicating a decline of over 60 percent. The exodus of Motown's original population plunged parts of the city into a state of severe urban decay, exacerbated by concomitant problems, such as poverty, crime and urban blight.

Nevertheless, Detroit is now looking forward to restoring its former grandeur. Together with a number of local companies, Schmidt Hammer Lassen has been chosen to rebuild Detroit's city center with a brand-new district with 482 homes and the first new office building in generations.

"After hard times, Detroit is marking itself as the comeback city of the US, and this project is part of this trend. The challenge is to redefine Detroit's city center, which today consists mostly of office buildings and parking lots, into a diverse and multifunctional area for the benefit of a broader society," Kristian Ahlmark, senior partner at Schmidt Hammer Lassen, told Danish Radio about the project, which also happens to be the company's debut on American soil.

​Entitled Monroe Blocks, the project is intended to be a multifaceted reflection of city life, with lots of vibrant public space. Monroe Blocks is planned to commence in 2018 and to be completed by 2022, featuring offices, private housing, retail and food stores, entertainment venues, sports and leisure facilities, as well as exhibition areas.

"Our project is trying to recreate some of the qualities of the original city plan. At the same time, the project offers a new and contemporary approach to urban life, where we systematically mix homes, institutions, shops, offices and public places. In many ways, it's about what had previously identified Detroit: density, dynamics and diversity," Kristian Ahlmark said.

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Meanwhile, the Danish architects are facing an uphill battle in what is described as the US's largest ghost town. A significant percentage of Detroit's housing stock remains in disuse, with at least 70,000 abandoned buildings, 31,000 empty houses and 90,000 vacant lots.

As for diversity, Detroit has already undergone a significant change in the racial composition, since approximately 1,400,000 of the 1,600,000 white people have left Detroit after WW2, with their percentage dropping below 10 percent.

Schmidt Hammer Lassen is an international architectural firm founded by a group of Danish architects in 1986. With five offices in Aarhus, Copenhagen, London, Shanghai and Singapore, its specialty is high-profile buildings, including art galleries, educational complexes and libraries.

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