Mies van der Rohe, Lafayette Park

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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.

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  The apartment towers at Lafayette Park.
    The apartment towers at Lafayette Park.
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  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.
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  A one-story villa in Lafayette Park.
    A one-story villa in Lafayette Park.
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  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.
    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.
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  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.
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  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.
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  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.
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  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."
    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."
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  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.
    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.
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  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.
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  Alexandra and Barlow enjoy a leisurely Alpine morning in bed underneath a quilt by Cranbrook Academy of Art graduate Abigail Newbold.
    Alexandra and Barlow enjoy a leisurely Alpine morning in bed underneath a quilt by Cranbrook Academy of Art graduate Abigail Newbold.
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  Colorful posters from the traveling exhibition "Shrinking Cities" channel possible mantras for a 21st-century Detroit.
    Colorful posters from the traveling exhibition "Shrinking Cities" channel possible mantras for a 21st-century Detroit.
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