Detroit, the recession and architecture


Abandoned housing development, Manteca CA
Abandoned housing development, Manteca CA

Upon reading the news that the median home price in Detroit was $7,500 for the month of December, the reality of just how bad the recession (although I would say it’s edging more towards the dreaded “D” word now) finally sunk in. Things are bad here in California too- unemployment is now over 10% and ghost towns have appeared where houses were once selling for over half a million dollars. Housing prices in the East Bay, particularly Oakland and Richmond, have plummeted. It is now possible to buy a house for well under $100,000. In some cases, houses that sold in 2006 for $300,000 can now be had for as little as $20,000. Granted, people shouldn’t be paying massive sums of money to live in Matnteca to commute 90 miles each way;  similarly, houses in crime-ridden neighborhoods next to refineries should never have been selling for $300,000 in the first place. It does how much times have changed in the last two years though. 

As much as I hope the “stimulus package” does work, I’m very pessimistic. Our entire idea of what “normal” is needs to be recalibrated. I don’t even know what to think about places like Detroit. After growing up in the Rust Belt (near Buffalo) and getting used to hearing about layoffs, declining populations and abandoned buildings, hearing this last hopeless statistic about Detroit is almost too much to bear (although conversely, Buffalo is doing well in comparsion right now). 

The architectural excesses of the last decade and a half will not be returned to any time soon. Sam Jacob’s article on Parametricism in The Architect’s Journal lays this issue out succinctly by relating to not only the financial excesses of architecture but to the theoretical and formal ones as well. I agree. The way out of our current predicament is not going to look like this:

Excess: the Akron Art Museum
Excess: the Akron Art Museum

By Mark

Mark is an architect in San Francisco.


  1. I’ve recently been hooked on, it’s fairly sad to read most of the time. It’s also where I learned the phrase “urban prairie” I think.

  2. i so agree with you on everything, and particularly about the theoretical/formal excess thing. seriously! is the jacobs piece really only 3 paragraphs? too bad he didn’t elaborate on the idea.

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