Turning Detroit’s Abandoned Homes Into Greenhouses Using the DFC Strategic Framework

October 24, 2016

When Steven Mankouche first saw the house at 3347 Burnside Street in Detroit, in 2013, it was buckling and scarred with burn marks. An artist named Andy Malone, who lived nearby, had just purchased the lot for $500 and was hoping to find some way to bring it back to life. Mankouche, an architect, and his partner, Abigail Murray, a ceramicist, floated a proposal to do just that, by commandeering the house’s foundation and repurposing it as a sort of plant nursery.

The following year, a team set to work dismantling the empty house, and in 2015, a new frame went up. By the time I visited, in June of this year, a new exterior had taken shape, with a fluted-plastic roof and wood siding. Like the old walls, the siding was charred, but deliberately so, via shou sugi ban, a Japanese technique that singes wood to render it resistant to rot. Despite summer’s heat and humidity, the interior of the structure was temperate. Come winter, Mankouche told me, “it will be hot enough for plants, but not for people.”

That’s fitting, because the structure’s future inhabitants will include species that can’t usually weather Michigan winters, like fig trees. With the help of his design collaborative, archolab, Mankouche—a professor at the University of Michigan—is building a sunken greenhouse he calls Afterhouse, which he hopes will serve as a prototype for other projects across the city and beyond.

Two years after Detroit emerged from bankruptcy, its urban-farming scene is flourishing, with some 1,400 farms and community gardens spread across the city’s 139 square miles. Many local growers worry that they will be uprooted as the city woos development projects, and with them, much-needed taxes and jobs. But green spaces don’t have to be at odds with revitalization, says Maurice Cox, the city’s director of planning and development, who notes that farms and gardens are a key element of the Detroit Future City plan, a blueprint for diversifying local land use.

Click here to read the full article in CityLab.