written by:
photos by:
January 14, 2009
Originally published in Mid-Century Remixed

High-rise superblocks and identical clusters of row houses set apart from the urban grid have been much maligned as some of the major wrongdoings of modernism, but Detroit's Lafayette Park—the first urban-renewal project in the United States—tells a vastly different story. Within a sprawling, decentralized city that has suffered near-disastrous decline, this racially and economically diverse enclave just northeast of downtown has not only aged gracefully but today flourishes with new life.

The apartment towers at Lafayette Park.
The apartment towers at Lafayette Park.
Photo by 
1 / 12
Lafayette Park's two-story townhouses are configured in a U-shaped formation.
Lafayette Park's two-story townhouses are configured in a U-shaped formation.
Photo by 
2 / 12
A one-story villa in Lafayette Park.
A one-story villa in Lafayette Park.
Photo by 
3 / 12
In 2006, Alexandra and Barlow moved to Detroit from Brooklyn (where Alexandra still lives and works part-time). The couple where heartbroken after losing a bid on a pristine townhouse, but they consoled themselves with a thoughtful renovation. Alexandra w
In 2006, Alexandra and Barlow moved to Detroit from Brooklyn (where Alexandra still lives and works part-time). The couple where heartbroken after losing a bid on a pristine townhouse, but they consoled themselves with a thoughtful renovation. Alexandra worked with contractor Joe "Schmoe" Proper from Lafayette Park Renovation to restore and update the home.
Photo by 
4 / 12
In the living room, a pair of Tree coat hangers by Michael Young and Katrin Petursdottir for Swedese contrast with the live foliage outside.
In the living room, a pair of Tree coat hangers by Michael Young and Katrin Petursdottir for Swedese contrast with the live foliage outside.
Photo by 
5 / 12
Because the original kitchen had been removed, Alexandra made the decision to widen the gallery-style room by ten inches. Floor-to-ceiling glass makes for ample natural light in the eating area, while the Vitra wall tiles provide a contemporary touch.
Because the original kitchen had been removed, Alexandra made the decision to widen the gallery-style room by ten inches. Floor-to-ceiling glass makes for ample natural light in the eating area, while the Vitra wall tiles provide a contemporary touch.
Photo by 
6 / 12
A Richard Schultz outdoor set for Knoll looks at home indoors thanks to some faux fur, and an Alexander Girard Environmental Enrichment panel does its job on the rear wall.
A Richard Schultz outdoor set for Knoll looks at home indoors thanks to some faux fur, and an Alexander Girard Environmental Enrichment panel does its job on the rear wall.
Photo by 
7 / 12
mies van der rohe, lafayette park, detroit, michigan
Residents are allowed a small swath to plant gardens. "A lot of credit is due to the landscape architect," says Barlow, and "Mies's floor-to-ceiling windows make the spaces feel open, while at the same time the canopy of trees makes you feel protected. It's a private, quiet, green oasis within spitting distance of the freeway, and you'd never know it."
Photo by 
8 / 12
The floating staircase is a decidedly elegant synthesis of form and function. "It's one of the reasons we wanted the townhouse" (as opposed to a villa), says Alexandra. The details are oddly reminiscent of the George Nelson Steel Frame desk in the office
The floating staircase is a decidedly elegant synthesis of form and function. "It's one of the reasons we wanted the townhouse" (as opposed to a villa), says Alexandra. The details are oddly reminiscent of the George Nelson Steel Frame desk in the office upstairs.
Photo by 
9 / 12
Despite an orderly exterior appearance, the townhome's upper floor plan is not strictly rectangular; it tessellates to create a wider and more livable space. The two front rooms act as an office and a guest room.
Despite an orderly exterior appearance, the townhome's upper floor plan is not strictly rectangular; it tessellates to create a wider and more livable space. The two front rooms act as an office and a guest room.
Photo by 
10 / 12
Alexandra and Barlow enjoy a leisurely Alpine morning in bed underneath a quilt by Cranbrook Academy of Art graduate Abigail Newbold.
Photo by 
11 / 12
lafayette park house posters couch
Colorful posters from the traveling exhibition "Shrinking Cities" channel possible mantras for a 21st-century Detroit.
Photo by 
12 / 12
The apartment towers at Lafayette Park.
The apartment towers at Lafayette Park.
Project 
Lafayette Park

Residents Keira Alexandra and Toby Barlow are two of Lafayette Park’s (and downtown Detroit’s) most fervent supporters. “San Francisco doesn’t need us,” says Alexandra, a graphic designer, “but Detroit does.” Barlow, who is the executive creative director for the Ford account at JWT and author of the epic poem Sharp Teeth, wryly notes, “Detroit is a blank canvas waiting for some more visionaries like Mies. People describe it as being dangerous, but they don’t describe Malibu as being dangerous, and it’s always on fire. That seems pretty dangerous to me. And Arizona is always on the brink of running out of water. That seems dangerous too.”

Within the minimal shell of Mies van der Rohe’s design, the eclecticism and vibrancy of Alexandra and Barlow’s renovated home is all the more apparent. Hand-me-down furniture, friends’ art, shelves stuffed with books, assorted ephemera, and lots and lots of telephones shape a creative and relaxing environment. The couple also appreciate the diversity of Lafayette Park’s residents. When asked if their neighbors care about living in a building by a Bauhaus master, Alexandra replies, “Only a handful at best. Besides, too many people who know what the Bauhaus was would make boring conversation at the cocktail parties.” “Bow what?” Barlow adds.

 

To see more images of the project, please visit the slideshow.

Join the Discussion

Loading comments...

Latest Articles

content delzresidence 013 1
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
June 29, 2016
abc malacari marwick stair 01 0
A simple set of stairs is a remodel’s backbone.
June 28, 2016
Design Award of Excellence winner Mellon Square.
Docomomo US announces the winners of this year's Modernism in America Awards. Each project showcases exemplary modern restoration techniques, practices, and ideas.
June 27, 2016
monogram dwell sf 039 1
After last year’s collaboration, we were excited to team up with Monogram again for the 2016 Monogram Modern Home Tour.
June 27, 2016
switch over chicago smart renovation penthouse deck smar green ball lamps quinze milan lounge furniture garapa hardwood
A strategic rewire enhances a spec house’s gut renovation.
June 26, 2016
young guns 2016 emerging talent coralie gourguechon treviso italy cphotos by coralie gourguechon co produced by isdat planche anatomique de haut parleur1
Coralie Gourguechon's paper objects will make you see technology in a whole new way.
June 26, 2016
green machine smart home aspen colorado facade yard bocci deck patio savant
Smart technology helps a house in Aspen, Colorado, stay on its sustainable course.
June 25, 2016
Compact Aglol 11 television plastic brionvega.
The aesthetic appeal of personal electronics has long fueled consumer interest. A new industrial design book celebrates devices that broke the mold.
June 25, 2016
modern backyard deck ipe wood
An angled deck transforms a backyard in Menlo Park, California, into a welcoming gathering spot.
June 24, 2016
dscf5485 1
Today, we kicked off this year’s annual Dwell on Design at the LA Convention Center, which will continue through Sunday, June 26th. Though we’ve been hosting this extensive event for years, this time around is particularly special.
June 24, 2016
under the radar renovation napa
Two designers restore a low-slung midcentury gem in Napa, California, by an unsung Bay Area modernist.
June 24, 2016
Exterior of Huneeus/Sugar Bowl Home.
San Francisco–based designer Maca Huneeus created her family’s weekend retreat near Lake Tahoe with a relaxed, sophisticated sensibility.
June 24, 2016
light and shadow bathroom walnut storage units corian counter vola faucet
A Toronto couple remodel their home with a special emphasis on a spacious kitchen and a material-rich bathroom.
June 24, 2016
Affordable home in Kansas City living room
In Kansas City, an architecture studio designs an adaptable house for a musician on a budget.
June 23, 2016
modern lycabettus penthouse apartment oak vertical slats office
By straightening angles, installing windows, and adding vertical accents, architect Aaron Ritenour brought light and order to an irregularly shaped apartment in the heart of Athens, Greece.
June 23, 2016
kitchen confidential tiles custom cabinetry oak veneer timber house
A modest kitchen addition to a couple’s cottage outside of Brisbane proves that one 376-square-foot room can revive an entire home.
June 23, 2016
feldman architecture 0
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
June 22, 2016
Blackened timber Dutch home
A modern dwelling replaces a fallen farmhouse.
June 22, 2016
hillcrest house interior kitchen 3
Seeking an escape from bustling city life, a Manhattan couple embarks on a renovation in the verdant Hudson Valley.
June 22, 2016
angular
Atelier Moderno renovated an old industrial building to create a luminous, modern home.
June 21, 2016
San Francisco floating home exterior
Anchored in a small San Francisco canal, this floating home takes its cues from a classic city habitat.
June 21, 2016
modern renovation addition solar powered scotland facade steel balcony
From the bones of a neglected farmstead in rural Scotland emerges a low-impact, solar-powered home that’s all about working with what was already there.
June 21, 2016
up in the air small space new zealand facade corrugated metal cladding
An architect with a taste for unconventional living spaces creates a small house at lofty heights with a starring view.
June 21, 2016
young guns 2016 emerging talent marjan van aubel london cwai ming ng current window
Marjan Van Aubel makes technology a little more natural.
June 21, 2016
urban pastoral brooklyn family home facade steel cypress double
Building on the site of a former one-car garage, an architect creates his family’s home in an evolving neighborhood of Brooklyn.
June 20, 2016
Modern Brooklyn backyard studio with plexiglass skylight, green roof, and cedar cladding facade
In a Brooklyn backyard, an off-duty architect builds a structure that tests his attention to the little things.
June 20, 2016
the outer limits paris prefab home living area vertigo lamp constance guisset gijs bakker strip tablemetal panels
In the suburbs of Paris, an architect with an eco-friendly practice doesn’t let tradition stand in the way of innovation.
June 20, 2016
amaroso40040
When a garage damaged by termites had to go, a studio emerges.
June 19, 2016
the blue lagoon iceland geothermal spa hotel water visitors
The famed geothermal spa outside Reykjavík, Iceland, is entering a major new phase—paving the way for the area’s first five-star hotel.
June 19, 2016
heaven on earth maya lin topography what is missing california academy sciences wood video
A new monograph by Rizzoli explores the memorial project by the renowned artist.
June 19, 2016