Detroit architecture exhibit draws ‘ruin porn’ charge

Louis Aguilar
The Detroit News
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Twenty photographs representing Detroit’s beauty and decay were released this week as part of a focus on Detroit architecture as part of an upcoming exhibit in Italy. But an anonymous protest called Detroit Resists suggests the Venice exhibit may merely be another exercise in “ruin porn” — the glorification of the city’s infamous decline.

The photographs, created by a wide range of artists, are intended to help celebrate the elite architectural exhibit. But the protest over the Detroit portion of the 2016 Venice Biennale has already hit social media and garnered some coverage in the architectural press.

The show, which runs from May 28 to Nov. 27, is considered one of the world’s premiere architecture showcases. Twelve architecture teams chosen from around the nation will create museum-like displays of concept designs for four Detroit sites: the Packard Plant, one of the most famous symbols of Detroit’s downfall; the Dequindre Cut and Eastern Market district; West Vernor Highway in southwest Detroit; and the U.S. Postal Service building and nearby land between West Fort Street and the Detroit River.

“The birthplace of the automobile industry, the free-span factory floor, the concrete paved road, and Motown and techno music, Detroit was once a center of American imagination, not only for the products it made but also for its modern architecture and modern lifestyle, which captivated audiences worldwide,” states the website for the Detroit exhibit, called the American Imagination.

One of the criticisms by Detroit Resists seems to be that international architects are creating designs for the Venice exhibit that are speculative — meaning the concepts may never become reality. Detroit’s woes call for immediate solutions, according to the website for the protest.

“We see audiences worldwide still captivated by the power of architecture in Detroit — awestruck by the spectacle of tens of thousands of families living in houses where the water has been shut off, tens of thousands of ‘blighted’ houses demolished while the need for affordable housing remains acute, and tens of thousands of families evicted from their homes in the course of the largest municipal tax foreclosure in U.S. history,” states the website for the protest.

Celebrating ruin porn is far from the goals of the exhibit. One of its ambitions is to show Detroit has always been an innovative center of design. The Detroit exhibit is being curated by the University of Michigan’s Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning.

The photographs, chosen among 463 entries, will be printed as postcards and handed out to visitors of the exhibit. The postcard photos will also be published in the exhibition catalog and shared on The Architectural Imagination website.

The 20 photographs are not the aim of the anonymous protest, but some of the images depict Detroit’s most infamous images of blight, including Michigan Central Depot. Other images depict elegant skyscrapers as well as loving portraits of lowriders and Detroit residents.

Twitter: LouisAguilar_DN

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