In Detroit’s Core City neighborhood, a new prefab Quonset hut hosts six apartments and two live/work spaces surrounded by a recently planted urban forest. Named Caterpillar after its long and slender shape, the gleaming 9,000-square-foot structure is the latest venture by Prince Concepts, a local real estate developer that has partnered with the city to develop roughly one hundred vacant properties in the district.
"We decided against complex floor plans, expensive materials, and a diversity of units," says Philip Kafka, president of Prince Concepts. "Instead, we utilized the Quonset hut, a simple, elegant, cost-effective prefabricated structure. This allowed us to reallocate our savings to spacious, thoughtful interiors that prioritize natural light, and to surround the structure with an urban woodland featuring over 150 trees."
The developer created Caterpillar in collaboration with architect Ishtiaq Rafiuddin of UNDECORATED, Studio Detroit, and landscape architect Julie Bargmann of D.I.R.T. Studio. The team worked closely with Virginia-based company SteelMaster to modify a standard Quonset hut with custom details, including 36 openings on each side of the arched metal facade.
"Inspired by the magnificence of spiritual spaces with domes, we decided to use a semicircular-shaped hut," says Rafiuddin. "As a pure form, it offers the most space and volume with a ratio of a hut structure."
"We arranged the apartments next to one another, similar to a sushi roll. Each apartment is a semicircular slice of space," says Rafiuddin. "Within each apartment, we employed an organizational strategy of utility versus ceremony. We placed a compact, inhabitable box in the middle of each apartment to house all of the services, such as the bathroom, shower, and kitchen."
The 192-foot-long, 46-foot-wide modular structure is divided into eight units that range from 750 square feet to 1,300 square feet. Caterpillar was completed in March 2021, and all of the units were fully leased before completion.
"We took inspiration from the image of a UFO crash landing in a forest, and the Centre Pompidou in Paris—an otherworldly object anchoring a massive public promenade," explains the design team "The result is a sculptural monument with thoughtful interiors and an urban woodland that will be enjoyed by the neighborhood for generations to come."
Landscape Architecture: D.I.R.T. Studio
Prefab Manufacturer: SteelMaster
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