Built as a thesis project by Cranbrook students Matthew Miller and Thomas Gardner in 2007, this roughly 700-square-foot dwelling in Poletown has recently been renovated and is ready for visitors. It took a long time to get to this point.
It sits on a block with nothing else on it, just a few blocks east of the bustling Eastern Market and Dequindre Cut extension. Looking around from the upper windows, you can see downtown to the east. But in all other directions, all you see are a few abandoned houses, a police station, and urban prairie.
According to the house’s site, when Miller and Gardner designed and created the home, they had a very specific purpose in mind.
"We are building a house, a dwelling for an under-housed family on the East Side of Detroit. The project will act as a framework and methodology for thinking and regarding human settlement, domesticity, and modes of living, while serving as a harbinger, a seed-germ for viability. And most importantly, in a modest but significant way, attend to the needs of a city and it’s citizenry."
They learned an awful lot along the way, which is documented here. It was built with low-cost materials and a lot of donated labor.
According to their history, "To Thomas Gardner’s own admission, the architects "were no sociologists." After it was built, it went through different owners and investors ("12 different owners in 6 years"), and wasn’t kept up. It fell into a state of disrepair and blight, and was often inhabited by squatters or whoever stumbled across it.
Darin McLeskey bought the property in 2012 and the property is finally ready to have that second life it deserves. It’s been completely renovated, and will soon be used either as a rental or an airbnb. They estimate the square footage at about 700 square feet, with a small living space and galley kitchen downstairs, and two open bedrooms (with no doors) and a small bathroom upstairs.
McLeskey sees the house as a metaphor of what happened in Detroit. It was built, lived in, changed hands, blighted, and renewed. It sits near the edge of Poletown and Eastern Market, with one way looking toward blight and the other toward vibrancy.
Last year, artist Beau Stanton painted the impressive mural on the outside of the house, and this year the house will be open for Eastern Market After Dark, Thursday, September 22. You can learn much more about the house, the neighborhood, and its history on its website.