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Shin Shin imagines radical redevelopment of abandoned Detroit homes

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Shin Shin imagines radical redevelopment of abandoned Detroit homes

The economic decline of Detroit in the second half of the 20th century is a familiar one in American history. The Motor City dramatically fell from a population of 1,850,000 in 1950 to 680,000 in 2015, resulting in an unprecedented exodus of its central historic districts. The Virginia Park district, a neighborhood lined with abandoned turn-of-the-century mansions, soon became a destination for out-of-town photographers eager to capture the ‘ruins’ as physical proof of abandonment with little interest in how the city can move on from the troubles of its recent past.

Shin Shin, an architecture firm founded in 2018 by Detroit-born sisters Melissa and Amanda Shin, recently opened an exhibition at Woodbury University in Burbank, California, that offers a bold solution for the city’s historic homes through a novel form of adaptive reuse. Titled Four Corners, the exhibition dives deeply into No Vacancy, a series of redevelopment scenarios applied to a typical Virginia Park mansion.

Each scenario programmatically divides the home in half, leaving the top floor as a modestly-sized private residence while transforming the bottom floor into a commercial space that generates income and provides much-needed amenities for building community. The four different family types—the bachelor or young couple, the single-parent, the nuclear family, and the empty nester—are coupled with a complementary commercial program, creative service spaces, an outdoor theater, a recreation center, and a garden cafe, respectively.

A person pointing a smart phone at a model of a facade
3D prints allow visitors up close to the playful details of all four housing proposals. (Michael Peguero, United Futures/Courtesy of Woodbury University)

Because the clash between the public and private may seem outlandish at first, the exhibition goes to great lengths to demonstrate the viability of their proposals through scaled-up construction drawings and highly detailed 3D-printed models. The models, in particular, draw the eye to the more playful aspects of each design, including silly straw-like columns, rock climbing facades, and overinflated acoustical padding. While the firm currently has no plans to make their vision a reality in their native city, they hope to come up with other, like-minded proposals to guide Detroit through its current era of revitalization and growth.

Four Corners will be on display until March 6.