Abandoned Detroit begins to power up

In fact, PHP is much more, operating seamlessly from both a renovation and artistic stance to take some of Detroit’s abandoned residential real estate and make it work, both as a literal source of renewable, off-grid power for surrounding homes and as a source of creative power.

In this latter framework, PHP – in a cooperative venture with both Design 99 and Partizan Publik (a Dutch social organization) – reconfigures empty houses into figurative power sources, from which ailing neighborhoods can draw the needed inspiration to tackle solutions via education, communication, socialization and highly interpretive art forms. 

One of these interpretive art forms is the Talking Fence, which uses historic Brightmoor House in Northwest Detroit’s Brightmoor Neighborhood as an anchor to create a curving bench and fence that contain the elements of neighborhood stories collected and collated by area youth.

Rainbow-painted Power House (and its matching backhoe) not only produces renewable energy from solar and wind – energy to run itself and potentially a next-door neighbor – but is also destined to become the site of an inaugural architectural learning program in summer 2011. 

Working with Dutch arts organization Fonds BKVB, the renovation will see Dutch artist Erik Jutten of 2012 Architects, Rotterdam redesigning the Power House roof in cooperation with Mitch Cope and Gina Reichert of PHP.

Design 99 could not have found a more needful American city than Detroit to demonstrate its philosophy of off-grid power production combined with nascent public art displays and neighborhood commitment to self-reliant solutions for empty houses, which includes marketing or creating living and working spaces for artists.

In the wake of the recession, and the downsizing or bankruptcy of the Big Three automakers (Ford, GM and Chrysler), Detroit found itself home to more than 40 square miles of vacant housing – the equivalent of San Francisco. Fortunately, groups like PHP have the skills, influence and drive to reverse the decline. For those interested in off-grid living, we recommend the energyNOW article that appeared on EarthTechling last year.

* Jeanne Roberts, EarthTechling