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ARQ (Santiago)

versión On-line ISSN 0717-6996

ARQ (Santiago)  no.91 Santiago dic. 2015 


House Opera | Opera House


Mitch McEwen *(1), Marcelo López-Dinardi*(2)

* Assistant Professor of Architecture, Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, University of Michigan, Detroit, USA
** Adjunct Assistant Professor, Barnard+Columbia Architecture School, Columbia University, New York, USA


What value can architecture generate when there’s no longer market value? After the 2008 crisis had caused the prices of homes in Detroit to drop to unusual levels, this project transforms a vacant house into a cultural infrastructure for the community. Understood as an opera, the house not only becomes a piece in itself, but also an urban strategy for the reconsideration of what we usually understand as the drama of deterioration and blight.

Keywords: demolition, blight, vacancy, performance, drama.

Previous conditions.
© Marcelo López-Dinardi

Previous conditions
© Marcelo López-Dinardi

The House Opera | Opera House project seeks, through architectural innovation, to propose a fertile alternative to the binary of blight and demolition. Implications of the project at the urban planning level include: how can residential vacancy be converted into an opportunity to support local cultural assets? What are the zoning, planning and building code changes that make this possible? The project addresses these questions through a suite of spatial and material tactics to facilitate exploration of performance, community, and form. The experimental aspects architecturally include strategies of subtraction, programmatic collaboration, and expanded territories of adaptive re-use. The project seeks to explore what might occur when the borders of a house open up to annihilate the borders between art and community, makers and receivers of art, museums and home.

Demolition on the inside
© Marcelo López-Dinardi

Inspired by the flexibility of uses for houses in Detroit, this project stages an opera as a house, the house and its dramas of occupancy and vacancy, demolition, and re-purposing, as an opera. As indicated in the title –House Opera | Opera House– the project pursues multiple relationships of physical structure to performance. Instigated by architectural designers working with a network of artists and curators, the House Opera | Opera House project situates built form in active relationship with choreography, costume, music, language, and drama. The doubling of the project’s title warns that opera will be explored and mined as an art form as much as the house as a typology of building and program..

Existing first floor plan. Published scale 1: 250
Legend: 1. Removed ceiling and second floor structure; 2. Removed wall from first floor to roof.

Roof plan. Published scale 1: 250

Up: Existing west elevation; down: Proposed west elevation. Published scale 1: 250

Axonometric. N.S.

As a long-term project of architectural experimentation, House Opera | Opera House actively explores dynamics of public and cultural engagement at the scale of the single family home. The title alludes as well to the "opera publica" of Rome, literally public works, which defined the state of the art of physical infrastructure roughly two millennia ago. House Opera | Opera House aims to open and produce new possibilities of public engagement for architecture as a discipline and for houses as a built typology, investigating the means by which a formerly vacant house may serve as a node of cultural infrastructure. As historian Reinhold Martin argues, infrastructure (financial, political or social) is what is reproduced and repeated. The House Opera | Opera House produces –and is product of– communal infrastructures.

The House Opera opened temporarily to the public on July 24-25 with SigiFest, an arts, music and performance festival organized by AFROTOPIA, directed by Detroiter curator Ingrid Lafleur.

The House Opera | Opera House was originated by Mitch McEwen when McEwen Studio bought the house and received funding by grants from the Knight Foundation, Graham Foundation, University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning. The first phase of design-subtraction-build was achieved with support from individual donors through a crowdsourcing campaign with funds matched by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.

Samuel R. Delany Book Club
© Marcelo López-Dinardi

Ingrid Lafleur at the open stage
© Marcelo López-Dinardi

Audience on the stage
© Marcelo López-Dinardi

Curtain folded-out to the exterior
© Marcelo López-Dinardi

Monstah Black performance
© Marcelo López-Dinardi

Interior stage
© Marcelo López-Dinardi

Architects: A(n) Office ( / Associated architects: McEwen Studio / Collaborators: Tyrene Calvesbert, Rebecca Curtis, Ye Fu, Juan Martínez, Salam Rida / Location: 1620 Morrell St, Detroit, mi, USA / Client: afrotopia / Structural engineering: Sarah Millsaps Towles /Building contractor: Lands Friend Builders / Materials: Wood, reclaimed wood / Interior and exterior finishing materials: Tyvek wrapping, reclaimed wood, Heat Shrink construction Film / Cost: USD$30,000 / Built area: 185,8 m²; 2,000 ft² / Site area: 464,5 m²; 5,000 ft² / Project year: 2014 - 2015 / Construction year: 2015 / Models: A(n) Office

1. Mitch McEwen | M.Arch. Master of Architecture, Columbia University GSAPP (USA, 2006). ba in Social Studies / Economics, Harvard College (USA, 2000). She works in architecture and urban design, focused particularly on the intersection of urban culture and global forces. Awarded numerous grants, including Graham Foundation (2014), Knight Foundation award (2015) and New York State Council on the Arts (2011). Selected to the USA Pavilion for the Venice Architecture Biennale (2016), Methexis, Residency exhibition at Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD). Is an Assistant Professor of Architecture at University of Michigan, Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning.

2. Marcelo López-Dinardi | Architect, Master in Critical, Curatorial and Conceptual Practices in Architecture, Columbia University GSAPP (USA, 2013). Bachelor in Architecture from the Polytechnic University of Puerto Rico, 2004, cum laude. He was researcher and production coordinator of House Housing: An Untimely History of Architecture and Real Estate, for the Buell Center of Columbia University exhibited in Venice in 2014, co-edited the book Promiscuous Encounters for GSAPP Books, founding editor of Polimorfo and director of CIUDADLAB, and has been selected to represent the USA Pavilion in the Venice Architecture Biennale in 2016. He is an Adjunct Assistant Professor at Barnard+Columbia Architecture, Columbia University, and Faculty at the New Jersey Institute of Technology.

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