For Green Building & Design‘s September/October cover story, written by Detroit-area native Jeff Link, managing editor Tim Schuler and I drove from Chicago to Detroit in search of our cover. We set up a photo shoot with our friends at the Michigan Urban Farming Initiative (MUFI) and planned to visit a variety of landmarks, but we didn’t know what to expect. When we arrived, we marveled at the city’s energy and life that animated its new and growing public spaces. We returned with more than 600 photos of the buildings, graffiti, people, and gardens that are bringing the city back to life.
When navigating this part of Detroit, I was searching in nooks and crannies trying to find something special. When I saw this building, it immediately reminded me of waves rushing in. Instead of water, it was a large mass of crumbling remnants of a beautiful old building. It was really quite stunning how large this pile was.
I grabbed this shot while we were driving around. I loved how sparse the streets were in some of these neighborhoods. Here, just a few miles from downtown, it felt like an empty city.
We spent two days driving around Detroit. This image captures that “road trip” essence.
We met the MUFI team at the Globe Building down by the Detroit RiverWalk. It’s a beautiful older building, but unfortunately we couldn’t get inside. We went back the next day, and I reached the corner just as this car pulled up. I loved the way the light hit the west side of the building, while the white car perfectly offset the darkness of the southern facade.
This is one of my favorite images from the trip. This tree was one of the most beautiful trees I had ever seen, and although the entire street was lined with them, not one person was around. The walls all along the perimeter were covered in graffiti. It was such a stark contrast between fresh new life and old, abandoned nothingness.
This home has been photographed many times, and while this shot may be very similar in nature, it was amazing to see in real life. The surroundings were bright despite the recent fire that had gutted the building.
This home is the site of not only one of the most notable art projects in Detroit but an awesome free putt-putt golf course (see below).
Photo assistant Mary Delaware tested out the golf course. From toilets to tires, the holes were interesting yet challenging.
The grounds of Lafayette Gardens are beautiful, well kept, and full of life. The gardening beds were great to walk around, and they even had seating available to the public to enjoy the space.
This is Joey, our incidental cover model. The best part of this image is that he is, in fact, not a model but an ordinary Detroit citizen we stumbled upon. Our editor saw Joey riding his bike with gardening equipment in tow and chased after him to ask him what he was doing. When we caught up with him, we found out that he runs a bicycle-powered recycling pick-up service called Detroit Greencycle (Detroit doesn’t have city-funded recycling), and he was currently unloading soil for a flowerbed for planting. I didn’t want to take up too much of his time, so I asked if he would stop gardening for a second and look right at the camera. The end result has a serious tone to it that really helps draw you into him.
If I could choose a building to renovate in the city, I’m almost positive it would be this one. The way the art was contained was very tasteful and offset the brick and classic architecture. All of the windows had been taken out of this building, which also added a depth to this photo, reminding the viewer that it is an abandoned hotel.
Managing editor Tim Schuler and graphic designer (my photo assistant for the trip) Mary Delaware walking around the edges of the Globe Building. This area is the beginning of a well-used bike path.
This is the façade of one of the houses the MUFI Initiative team (Tyson, Darin, and Shelby) is trying to purchase on their block in Detroit. The top portion is partially burned down, and the building is filled with leftover pieces of the previous owner’s property, but MUFI wants to revitalize the home along with others in the neighborhood.
For Tyson’s portrait, I wanted to convey a strong vibe and also show his youthfulness. We asked him to dress how he normally would but to look very serious because his story is an important one to tell. He and the other MUFI volunteers are young, either still in college or just out of college, and their smart and community-centered agricultural efforts are helping revitalize the city.
This is one of the homes that Tyson and Darin are working to own. This house was badly damaged and the trees around it were barren, just like the home itself.
Darin’s dog Lady was very pregnant while we were visiting Detroit. Lady disappeared for a period of time, and when Darin went to find her in the abandoned house, she had started giving birth to a litter of puppies. He had to get Lady out of the house so that she could finish giving birth. He brought her to the chicken coop and made a bed out of old blankets.
These were the first images of the puppies, and it was remarkable to be a part of this experience. I have never seen life so young.
We saw this mural one afternoon. “Kahn” references the famous Detroit architect Albert Kahn, speaking to an earlier era of success and building in the city, and a hope to bring that prosperity back.
See more photos and learn more about Detroit here.