Mobile Gallery for Black Bottom, Detroit

 

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When viewed from far enough away, through the lens of histories interpreted and exchanged by those in power, moral crimes of the past can appear to be an obvious mistakes made by less conscious ancestors whose intentions went beyond mere complicity and into the realm of evil. But evil is made possible by the complicit.

Hastings St. which, was once the thriving main street of Black Bottom and Paradise Valley in Detroit was completely wiped out by I-75 and I-375 which were put into effect in 1945.

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By not speaking to or working with the inhabitants of a project they work on, architects participate in widening an epistemic rift that could otherwise be avoided. Whether or not the intention of the architects and planners is an outright colonial manifestation of their ideologies, rendered into architectural form in cities, Detroit and New York City in particular, the gaping distance between the between the master planner and the citizen is often nearly irreversible. This applies in particular to public housing projects where the nature of the architecture is often extremely prescriptive. The implication that many of the residents who live in public housing projects are not necessarily living there by choice, meaning the choice was made by someone else, implies someone who has more control over them than they have themselves. This controller may not be the architect, or even an individual, but a complicit collective somewhere else working to the best of their knowledge on finding the best solution as they deem fit. The almost entirely black population of Black Bottom did not ask for the highway, and neither were their ideas incorporated into the project, divorcing the decision from the the party it mattered to most directly. Added to the destruction the houses and businesses in Black Bottom is the creation of a symbol of the architectural genocide embodied by the immensity of the highway, steamrolling its way through the city serving as a constant reminder of how little the beauty, production, and memories of Black Bottom were valued by the architects and planners behind the highway system.

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Architectural documentation often refers to the act of preserving valuable moments in the design process, primarily through the media of photography and writing. Detroit’s thriving African American neighborhood Black Bottom was destroyed, but there are still people alive today who have memories of living there. As a way of documenting the processes both of the success of Black Bottom/Paradise Valley and the tragedy of its destruction, this project posits the necessity of the preservation of the remaining memories and artifacts of the lost neighborhood.

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Instead of attempting to rebuild or recreate what was destroyed using permanent, large-scale, architecture driven by revenue, this project calls for the resurrection of the collective knowledge of the place and the perpetuation of its ideas as a symbol for future regeneration. The mobile gallery is a memorial that moves along the highways which were instrumental in the city’s architectural genocide, as it makes stops to collect and display the knowledge and ephemera of the crucially missing piece of Detroit.

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