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Elle Decor Italia

Discovering Detroit 2.0

A journey across the former Motor City, almost mortally hurt by the economic crisis and yet risen from the ashes in the name of creativity

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What about Detroit must-sees? Here’s an itinerary among dismissed industrial complexes now transformed into fresh new landmarks of creativity, and abandoned houses which now relive as majestic art installations so charmingly scarred: the Arabian phoenix of the Midwest, Detroit went all the way from roaring Motor City to a modern Pompeii annihilated by the financial crisis and, lastly, a vibrant lab for the urban culture of tomorrow. The city’s ups and downs include: the local and most astonishing economic and social decline in US history, and also the “City of Design” designation from the UNESCO: indeed, a huge range of massive architectural ruins have been increasingly attracting hordes of photographers keen on industrial archeology and fascinating remains risen from the ashes of the past. 

See the Russell Industrial Center, a complex of studios and shops defined by a solid concrete shell and large factory windows. This former industrial site was completed by architect Albert Kahn in 1925, and has been quickly becoming a Mecca for creatives, entrepreneurs and future thinkers over the last few years. The vast, maze-like space is now home to more than 150 architecture firms, cinema workers, painters, fashion designers, artisans, sculptors and designers, and provides fertile ground for fresh new collaborations, initiatives and fruitful networking activities (russellindustrialcenter.com). 


Located on Russel Street, Wasserman Projects is another landmark for the urban Renaissance. More than just an evocative venue, it offers an ever-changing stage for art, design and music , and promotes a quirky, multidisciplinary approach focused on hybrid and original artistic partnerships. A one-of-a-kind reality endorsing imagination and immaculate talent, the space puts out an extensive agenda of talks and temporary exhibitions, and aspires to become a key player in Detroit’s human and creative texture (wassermanprojects.com). 

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Another street, another project: here’s the Hildeberg Project, an outdoor art environment in the heart of an urban area and a Detroit based community organization with a mission to improve the lives of people and neighbourhoods through art. Originally created in 1986 by artist Tyree Guyton and his family, it was in part a political protest: indeed, coming back to Heidelberg Street after serving in the Army, Guyton was astonished by the district’s progressive state of deterioration and started painting a series of houses. Today, such art reserve has blown out its 30 candles and successfully stands the test of time, arson attacks, demolition orders: what an extraordinary demonstration of the power of creativity (facebook.com/HeidelbergProject). 


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A testimoniare l’illustre passato di quella che la guida Lonely Planet ha eletto come la seconda tra le città da visitare nel 2018, restano le tracce delle 

Named by Lonely Planet the second best city in the world to visit in 2018, Detroit is still dotted with 19-century architectures that allowed the city to win the title of the “Paris of the West”: see the elegant façades of numerous Art Deco skyscrapers, and the works of timeless masters like Mies van der Rohe.  

The Fisher Building is no exception: designed a National Historic Landmark in 1800’s, it is widely acknowledged as the most beautiful commercial building in the US. One of the major works of architect Albert Kahn, the building is made of limestone, granite and several types of marble, and also features 21 elevators rising 130 metres above street level. Highlights include the opulent three-storey barrel vaulted lobby constructed with forty different kinds of marble, along with the lavishly decorated façade. 

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More modern yet equally charming, here’s the most unmistakable silhouette of the whole Detroit’s skyline: GM Renaissance Center. With John Portman as the principal architect for the original design, this group of seven interconnected skyscrapers was first erected in 1977 as an icon of the Motor City – a creature of the indomitable will of Henry Ford. Today, the GMRenCen – as it is affectionately known – shows off a mirrored glazed surface reflecting the very soul of Detroit, while providing a symbol of hope and pride to local citizenry (gmrencen.com). 

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One more stunning example of Detroit’s Renaissance? The Foundation Hotel, a luxury boutique hotel resulting from the conversion of the old Detroit Fire Department Headquarters. Nowadays, it is an artful blend of the past and present enriched with a contemporary design selection, exposed brick walls and modern architectural features. The hotel is also home to Apparatus Room, one of the city’s most buzzed-about restaurants born from the legendary “comeback” of Michelin-starred chef Thomas Lents (detroitfoundationhotel.com). 

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