my love for you burns all the time
Soloway Gallery Williamsburg, New York August 2012
my love for you burns all the time premise: The Packard Plant is coming undone. It’s been coming undone – sometimes feverishly, sometimes with glacial resolve – for half a century, and its ruination is revelatory. Like the accelerated desiccation of an ill-fated caribou in time lapse, it states the inevitable: Time is remorseless. But unlike the naturalized allegory of decomposition, the Packard is dissolving according to its own strange logics – or contingent mishaps – that render the behemoth paradigmatically contemporary. In its primitive claims toward utopian productivity coupled with its utter industrial uselessness, the Packard has emerged as one of the most compelling markers of our time. A monument to itself, reveling in its own iconography, the Packard fabricates desire and spurs the scenographic transcription of its dereliction 1. Some think that’s naughty. piranesian bling: My Love For You Burns All The Time transforms the Packard Plant, Detroit’s notorious post-industrial behemoth, into a series of silver-plated fragments of a monument in miniature. Measured, documented, reconstructed instances suspend the ever-shifting site into a series of precisely scaled replicas of ruination. Some focus on the buildings’ acclaimed iconography: the water tower 2, the Grand Boulevard bridge 3. Others preserve unexceptional examples of architectural obsolescence: a reinforced column 4, a typical façade 5, an elevator shaft 6. Suspension here is a devise in the production of fetish-worthy fantasy, allowing an interminable return to an image of degradation that no longer exists in the material world. The copy, consequently, is rendered more auratic, more titillating.
ruine en mouvement: Like a vegetal landscape, the Packard Plant is in motion. Human mediation, both authorized and illicit, has led to a rapid and spectacular transformation of the industrial complex. Its current state, an untethered terrain, resists all architectural and urban conventions. The property title, along with accountability, has been lost and contested 7. The alleged owner vows imminent demolition 8. Scrappers have sacked the buildings indiscriminately, allowing portions of the concrete structure to teeter tenuously on exposed steel rods 9. This metal harvest, performed by hand and using portable cutting tools, has ignited innumerable fires. The blazes, varied in scale and intensity, burn all the time 10.
1) 3.5 millions square feet, 74 buildings, and 52.5 acres of industrial detritus, the Packard Plant has been featured in Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre’s The Ruins Of Detroit, Andrew Moore’s Detroit Disassembled, Julia Reyes Taubman’s Detroit: 138 Square Miles, Dan Austin’s Lost Detroit: Stories Behind The Motor City’s Majestic Ruins, The New York Times, Time Magazine, Vice Magazine, The Detroit Lives Miniseries, and countless other books, magazines, online forums, blogs, documentaries etc. There are websites devoted solely to the Packard plant’s fire status – is it or isn’t it burning? One of its haunting collapsed roofs hosted Scott Hocking’s Garden of the Gods installation, and the site is never missing a camera crew for long.
2) The water tower invokes the quintessence of the post-industrial monument. Rumors of the tower’s fabled disappearance implicated alleged current owner Cristini in a covert sale for scrap and sparked blogosphere speculation. Adamant denials and subsequent visits to the site found the water tower in tact and onsite, dispelling rumors but highlighting the delicate and possessive attitudes Packard Plant fans have toward this particular ruined fragment. Untitled # 14 3) The Grand Boulevard Bridge was built in 1939 as part of the transition to modern assembly line production, joining the north and south halves of the plant. Throughout the Packard’s history,
this bridge has served as the implicit marker. In the Packard’s glory days as the luxury automobile manufacturing plant, it wore the company’s name across its façade. Later the bridge was informally branded Motor City Industrial Park, with remnants of this signage visible today. Untitled # 22 4) The first industrial complex in the world to use reinforced concrete, the Packard’s floors were designed to support 100 pounds per square foot. Because of this immense reinforcing, much of the original structure still stands today, even after years of abandonment, fires, and feverish scrapping. Where the structure has failed, exposed skeletal steel bars hold fractured concrete shards in mid-air. And smashed fallen columns bloom steel reinforcement. Untitled # 43, Untitled # 97, Untitled # 31 5) Façades across the Packard complex no longer shelter building interiors. Some stand entirely divorced of their associated structures. Recently a section of Packard wall tagged by the artist Banksy gained notoriety when a nonprofit gallery detached and transported the graffiti image, valued at over a quarter million dollars, to their space in Detroit. The ensuing legal action inspired by one purported property
owner laid claim to the work, and by unintended consequence, the back taxes on land. A month later, motivated by the contested graffiti’s value, this purported owner removed another tagged wall in hopes of arranging a museum donation, thereby securing a large tax deduction. Authentication and appraisal unfortunately proved too difficult. Although the Albert Kahn original buildings were made of reinforced concrete, two and three story steel buildings were built into the courtyards when space became an issue. While these structures were the first to be scrapped for steel, their imprints remain permanently cast in the facades of their adjoining buildings. Untitled #73, Untitled # 17 6) While ramps still provide access to cars and bicycles in the former garage, and stairs allow pedestrians to climb up into the bowls of this once productive automotive plant, the elevator shafts simply exist now as functionless voids, vestiges of a bygone use. Their utter uselessness heightens their monumentality as markers, now piercing through massive concrete floor plates. Untitled # 15 7) Dominic Cristini claims BioResource Inc. is the sole owner of the facility, and
has spent years in court battling the city of Detroit. In the late 90s former Mayor Dennis Archer took possession of it and began demolition. However when BioResource sued Detroit’s 555 Nonprofit Studio and Gallery the documented plaintiff was Romel Casab, who had long been assumed to be tied to the property. Casab still denies ownership, and it is possible his name appeared on the lawsuit in lieu of Crisitni’s while Cristini served a drug related prison sentence in Florida. 8) Cristini estimates demolition costs in the range of $3-6 million while the City’s estimate is upwards of $20 million. Cristini, who has unpaid back taxes totaling over $1 million, has claimed that scrap metal from the building will pay for the majority of the construction costs. Given that scrappers have spent the last two decades ripping all exposed steel from the reinforced concrete structures, many doubt this claim. The City, whose attempted demolition in the late 90’s was met with a lawsuit from Crisitini, has no intention of helping fund the demolition this time. As of March 2012, Cristini had told reporters a perimeter fence would be constructed in a matter of days, and demolition would begin within 90 days. As of July 2012 no demolition permits have been pulled, and there is no perimeter fence.
9) Scrapped metal sells for a maximum of $0.10 per pound in the Detroit Metro Area. 10) Sometimes caused by sparks from scrappers welding tools, fires often break out. Firefighters respond by securing the perimeters, ensuring the nothing spreads to neighboring buildings. However, direct orders from the Fire Department prevent any firefighters from entering the buildings, purportedly due to their structural instability, but many Detroit locals suspect it has more to do with the City wanting the buildings demolished one way or another.
credits Anya Sirota Jean Louis Farges Lauren Bebry Bruce Findlig Allen Gillers akoaki Mark Cunniff, JC Gorham Alex Belwkh, Galvanique galvanoplasty
special thanks Annette Wehrhahn, Soloway Taubman College of Architecture + Urban Planning Albert Kahn Archives, Bently Historical Library