Assemble Detroit: Collective Memories
Date: September 18-29, 2017
Team: Eileen Bunt, Masimba Hwati, Trev True
Role: Team Member
Collective Memories was a design sprint sponsored by Art and Architecture schools at the University of Michigan and led by members of Assemble, a London based collective who work across art, architecture, and design.
Challenge: (paraphrased brief from AssembleUK
Detroit was once the 4th largest city in the United States and had significant national and international influence as home to the automotive industry, Motown Records and so much more. Globalized manufacturing has led to a 60% reduction in population which left large districts of the city vacant by the early 21st century. As buildings decay, plants and wildlife return. The city has morphed and as buildings are lost, the stories and culture that made Detroit are lost too. We believe that in a time of global homogenization, it is vital to maintain the cultural heritage we have inherited. Our task over the next two weeks will be to discover and uncover this culture and represent it physically.
Working in groups, we will start with a discussion exploring culture, architecture, and symbolism. Then we will spend a day exploring Detroit uncovering narratives lost in the decay.
Using these discoveries as a starting point, each team will design and build an artifact that embodies their findings. The project will end with an exhibition and round table discussion at Popps Packing, in Hamtramck.
None of our team members were from Detroit. We came from thousands of miles away and felt uncomfortable deciding which stories were culturally significant after such a short research window. We participated in the activities outlined in the brief and decided to focus on Hamtramck, a city nearly entirely encompassed by Detroit. Masimba had spent some time there at the Zimbabwe Culture Center and we all agreed that it made sense to create a sculpture about the place it would be shown. Rather than focus on what was lost through outmigration and decay, we decided to focus on what those conditions made possible. Hamtramck’s story is one of change. Hamtramck has shifted from Indigenous, British, French, German, Polish, and now Tamil and Yemini majorities. Each of these transitions were precipitated by forces beyond the control of the entrenched community. The difference is that the most recent shift was made possible by protracted disinvestment rather than war or a new factory. While this pattern as a precursor to gentrification is familiar, we find it interesting and encouraging that in this case a community of people persecuted in their homeland and displaced by the ravages of war found a home and built a community together. Looking at the history and census data we found that Hamtramck has been a haven for at least 22 diasporic communities.