Decoding Design

Creative solution to problems of foreclosed homes

Creative solution to problems of foreclosed homes

Posting in Design

In Detroit, an architect and artist couple rebuild an off-the-grid house and their community through art and design.

By injecting a program of art into their Detroit neighborhood, Power House Productions offer a creative solution to the typical problems caused by foreclosed and abandoned houses.

The founding project, named the Power House, had been a drug house following a foreclosure. The increase of foreclosed properties being abandoned and becoming sites of drug activity or arson pushed Gina Reichert and Mitch Cope, an architect and artist couple, to take back their neighborhood. With the help of grants, Reichert and Cope purchased and remodeled the Power House for $1900 at the beginning of 2008's economic decline.

A colorfully striped house with solar and wind power systems, the Power House is meant to generate its own electricity and heat (plus enough for an adjacent house) and also generate an empowered community. The very public remodeling and retrofitting of the house encouraged and fostered interest, conversations, and finally involvement within the neighborhood. Instead of a derelict site, the project became a place for neighbors to come together and help in an active way.

The house is used to host artists-in-residence, provide gallery space for visiting artists, and serve as a homebase for the community building programs of Power House Productions. The success of the Power House project led to the purchase and rescue of eight more houses and four vacant lots, all within the same four block neighborhood. As part of the program, visiting artists and architects use the houses as canvases for their work while helping restore and remodel the structures. Reichert and Cope hope that the homes encourage artists, designers and architects to either buy the houses or other houses in the area.

Power House Productions current projects include the Jar House (which will become the official headquarters of the organization), the Yellow House (a rental home), the Squash House (a recreational space), and a skate park on the four lots.

The Power House and its successors present an innovative, sustainable response to the threats of economic decline faced by urban neighborhoods. The unofficial neighborhood organization that has formed around the arts community also takes care of alley garbage clean ups, abandoned home board ups, crime watches, collaborative bicycle maintenance, community gardening, and neighborhood safety initiatives.

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Sun Kim

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Sun Joo Kim is an architect and creative consultant based in Boston. Her projects include design and master planning of museums, public institutions, hospitals, and university buildings across the U.S. She holds a degree from Carnegie Mellon University and is a member of the U.S. Green Building Council. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure