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Thanks for the View, Mr. Mies

A humanist look at living in Mies van der Rohe and Detroit's Lafayette Park

by Graham Hiemstra in Culture on 29 October 2012

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Amongst the expanses of desperate homes and floundering businesses the media has repeatedly brought to light, a lone two towers and low lying complex of townhouses stands in downtown Detroit. Lafayette Park, as it's called, comprises the largest collection of buildings designed by legendary minimalist Ludwig Mies van der Rohe in the world. Not unknown by any means, the unique modernist environment has been the subject of many a documentary on the impact of such architecture on the blue-collar lead city, yet few have focused exclusively on the inhabitants.

Compiled by three young designers—Danielle Aubert, Lana Cavar and Natasha Chandani—who've each called Lafayette Park home at one point or another, Thanks for the View, Mr. Mies takes a human interest angle with extensive interviews and essays by past and present residents, accompanied by archival materials and previously unpublished photographs of the mid-century modern refuge. Speaking in the book's preface Aubert rather simply states, "we decided to make a book about Lafayette Park that did not focus specifically on Ludwig Hilberseimer's planning, Mies' architecture and Alfred Caldwell's landscape design, but rather took the perspective of the people who live here."

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Although rather homogeneous in its early years of existence, Lafayette Park has steadily grown into one of Detroit's most racially integrated and economically stable neighborhoods. Regardless of their level of education in modernism and the work of Mr. Mies the residents of the towers and townhouses unite under a uncharacteristically strong sense of community in the scarcely populated city.

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Broken into three sections—the neighborhood, the townhouses, the high-rises—the intriguing book looks at everything from the surrounding landscape and its impact to how inhabitants interact with their environment to property evolution and upkeep over the years. Peppered within these sections are curious, and often comical, anecdotes by residents and small surveys of the pros and cons of living within the property's glass boxes and stark white walls.

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Through this more humanistic approach the three authors conclude that while many are drawn to Lafayette Park by the opportunity to live in a van der Rohe for under $700 a month, perhaps the strength of the neighborhood has grown from the fact that majority of its inhabitant are more drawn by the offering of trees, neighbors and endless views in a relatively safe environment close to downtown. Which might just be the most telling proof of the power of good design.

Set to publish 31 October 2012 by Metropolis Books, Thanks for the View, Mr. Mies is available for preorder through Artbook and Amazon for around $30. For a closer look at the investigative book see the slideshow.

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