Our most recent blog post enjoined us to look to our past in order to understand and anticipate our future. Building on that idea, here are two images for you with the mindmunchies today:

The first is pulled from a collection of photographs titled The Ruins of Detroit. The images are stunning alone. Together they convey an almost palpable sense of thwarted ascent, that idea which is such a common theme in the Detroit narrative. The dissipation of Detroit’s city proper, a result of long-churning economic and political struggles, is significant enough in scale to have earned its own term: “urban prairie,” a term referencing the large tracts of land scattered throughout the city which are returning to seed. Civic activists, struggling with how to repurpose these empty buildings and lots left empty by a mass exodus that cut the city’s population by almost half since the 1950s, are grappling with an issue emblematic of changing social ideals – The city built on an aggressive combination of manifest destiny and a welfarist approach to resources must now learn how to scale itself back into an adaptable format.

Happily, there are some real smarties leading the charge in adjusting our views on how to inhabit urban environments in ways that are conducive to sustainable, scalable growth. The second picture is of a 3,229 sq. foot villa constructed mostly from reused materials and designed by 2012Architects. The Rotterdam, Netherlands, based architecture firm takes a fully integrated view towards resource preservation in the design and building of its structures (termed ‘Superuse’). Superuse considers not just raw materials but energy supply, human labor, water, and even traffic cycles in efforts to make smart and conservative use of resources. To this end, they developed an innovative use of harvest maps to identify reuse materials suitable for their planned structure and with closest proximity to their building site. By locating materials which were close by, the firm was able to minimize the total water, gas, and time allocated to procuring their supplies. Ultimately, 65% of the villa was comprised of reused materials.

There’s a story about rebirth somewhere in the juxtaposition of these photos, nicely summed up in the statement issued by Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre, the French photographers who produced Ruins: “The state of ruin is essentially a temporary situation that happens at some point, the volatile result of change.” Hopefully, the shift in values to local sourcing, smart growth, and reuse of existing assets will come into play as Detroit inevitably blooms again.

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