In Unbuilding Detroit, a Falling Tree production for BBC radio 4, producer Eleanor McDowall explores how abandoned buildings and structures, and entropic processes of decomposition and decay, are providing the materials for artists to re-imagine Detroit.
Unfortunately it’s no longer available online on BBC iplayer but a seletion of sound-bites (and a photo-show) from the program are available on Falling Tree’s website: click here to navigate.
“It would be hard to say we are standing in a place that is beautiful, the ceiling is missing, the roofing above us is charred, the back of the house is gone, is this an experience of failure of disaster?”
“It shows a loss of control… they want to be in control and they don’t like to see how really we are not in control. Whether or not we are talking about living creatures, or cities, or bulidings everything meets its end and then there’s a rebirth that happens. For me that’s kinda exciting.”
“I come to places like this, I gravitate toward them, because they capture for me that really usually strange balance between safety and beauty, and despair and emptiness…. but life is that complex… that’s why detroit to me is endlessly interesting… I really love this city. And you can look at it and well what’s to love in a city that is this troubled… but what’s not to love in an experience that brings you this close to really feeling fully alive.”
This is what the BBC say:
“In a city that has shed almost fifty percent of its population since its peak in 1950 – the problem of abandoned houses and crumbling neighbourhoods in Detroit is a significant one.
As architect Dan Hoffman, remarked, “unbuilding has surpassed building as the city’s major architectural activity.” Since 1970 almost one-third of the city’s occupied houses, more than the total number of occupied dwellings in the entire city of Cincinnati, has been demolished – but many more still remain.
The city has become a site of artistic pilgrimage for some – often times painted as a ghost town, with images that contain no trace of humanity – just skeletal, abandoned structures reaching up into the sky. But concealed behind the symbolism of this grand, decaying industrial city and its emptiness lies a vibrant network of artists, activists and architects – seeking to beautify, to transform and to re-imagine Detroit.
In this programme we discover how charred, crumbling buildings and dilapidated factories – remnants of Motown’s industrial past- have been transformed into riots of colour and sound. The program features contributions from the artists Scott Hocking, Tyree Guyton and Olayami Dabls.”
Produced by Eleanor McDowall
A Falling Tree Production for BBC Radio 4.