This Fall 2019 Weitzman School of Design Historic Preservation Studio tested the idea of tactical preservation by applying it to the East Warren-Cadieux corridor joining Morningside and East English Village neighborhoods on Detroit’s east side. Used in situations where fully elaborated rehabilitation projects are presently infeasible, tactical preservation refers to strategies using partial, incremental adaptive reuse of civic and commercial buildings to spark redevelopment in disadvantaged neighborhoods.
Advised by Professor Randall Mason, the team of Weitzman School of Design graduate students were challenged to carefully study a particular neighborhood with rich historic built environments and complex histories of growth and decline. The overriding goal was proposing projects that take advantage of the neighborhoods’ valuable heritage assets to plant seeds of equitable redevelopment. The group worked to discern the mix of cultural and economic values of the extant environment, understand the enabling environment and the social issues demanding attention, and employ tactical preservation principles to advance equitable redevelopment for existing communities.
The team of four students studied the neighborhood centered on an historic commercial corridor with a century or more of layered development. On the basis of this broad understanding, each student devised specific interventions for a civic, institutional or commercial building along the main thoroughfare.
Over the 15- week semester, the team produced a snapshot of the neighborhood (for about 5 weeks), then shifted to designing interventions for single buildings in the neighborhood. The endpoint of each individual project is a three-part proposal for reuse and architectural/urban transformation of commercial corridor sites, outlining strategies that play out over immediate-, short-, and medium-term phases (2-month, 2-year, and 10-year time frames).
The aim of these preservation planning studies was a holistic strategy, balancing different factors – taking in account cultural and historical significance, urban dynamics, demographic processes, architectural and design moves, policy structures, interpretation projects and financing/feasibility – not drilling down exhaustively on any one factor. Gaining access to the interior of all buildings to assess conditions was difficult; therefore, design work could only proceed so far, and each project needs further “proofing.”