Fresh Take In Detroit, the hum­ble Quon­set hut be­comes a com­mu­nity builder

In Detroit, a ne­glected form of mil­i­tary ar­chi­tec­ture in­spires a new vi­sion of ur­ban liv­ing

Azure - - DEPARTMENTS - BY JOHN LORINC

WHEN L.A. AR­CHI­TECT Ed­win Chan was asked to en­vi­sion a clus­ter of Quon­set huts on a two-hectare site in Detroit as a cre­ative com­mu­nity, he was skep­ti­cal at first. The iconic struc­tures seemed too steeped in mil­i­tary sym­bol­ism. But that pre­sump­tion also posed a chal­lenge for Chan, who founded EC3 af­ter work­ing at Frank Gehry’s of­fice for 25 years. “It’s im­por­tant for me to de­sign a project that can over­come pre­con­cep­tions,” he says.

The re­sult is True North, where eight Quon­set huts of var­i­ous sizes ac­com­mo­date af­ford­able live-work spa­ces for cre­ative ten­ants, such as artists and as­pir­ing chefs. The project was launched by real es­tate de­vel­oper Philip Kafka, who is ac­tively in­vest­ing in Detroit’s re­birth with ven­tures that will en­tice en­trepeneurs like him­self – those hop­ing to breathe new life into Mo­tor

City by at­tract­ing start-ups at a grass­roots level.

The Quon­set is ideal as an in­ex­pen­sive struc­ture that can go up quickly and pro­vide open space for any type of use. Its de­sign dates back to 1941, when the U.S. Navy first curved cor­ru­gated steel sheets into a half-moon shape and cov­ered the in­te­rior in ply­wood. Both ma­te­ri­als were read­ily avail­able and easy to ship and as­sem­ble. To trans­form the huts into some­thing with a distinctly ur­ban pro­file, Chan gave them mul­ti­level in­te­ri­ors and used such fin­ishes as curved ply­wood and translu­cent poly­car­bon­ate pan­els, in­stalled at ei­ther end of the struc­tures to pro­vide both light and pri­vacy.

The huts are sit­u­ated around a com­mu­nal court­yard and the com­pound has sev­eral gar­den-like pa­tios fac­ing the street – both choices that flow from Chan’s goal of un­der­cut­ting the reg­i­men­ta­tion as­so­ci­ated with bar­rack ar­chi­tec­ture. “It’s im­por­tant that this small com­mu­nity doesn’t cre­ate a bar­rier to the street,” he says. Now that True North is al­most fully leased, he can imag­ine sim­i­lar neigh­bour­hoods crop­ping up else­where. “Es­pe­cially in places like Cal­i­for­nia, where there is a milder cli­mate than Detroit. They are ideal for any­one look­ing for an al­ter­na­tive life­style.” truenorthde­troit.com

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