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Massive Color A saturation proposal for the shrinking city. Dorothy Schwankl

This is the final volume of a three volume set of books describing the work produced by Dorothy Schwankl in the winter semester of 2010 at the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning with guidance from studio critic, Christian Unverzagt .




A historical look into how eminent domain in Hamtramck has effected the site just north of the GM Plant.



A take on how color can be re-imagined



The combination of site and aesthetics,

to take on more than hue.

the landscape proposal defines the potential non-boundaries of aesthetic intervention.


context 09


The Territory Defined

north of the factory east of the blue metal roofs and south of where the tourists go to eat borscht


Gray Panther leader Maggie Kuhn joined the Poletown

Protestor s park a bulldozer in front of GM Chairman

Catherine Patrick , who had lived in Poletown since

protest s following a letter writing campaign by

Roger Smith’s home in Bloomfield Township in 1981. 5

1937, insisted in December 1980, “I will not move from

resident s. 5

Public Good “In 1981, the Michigan Supreme Court decided one of the most controversial cases involving eminent domain. In that case, the city of Detroit had seized thousands of homes, businesses, and churches in an area called Poletown (named for the large Polish population in that area) so that General Motors could build a plant on the site. The city claimed that the ‘public use’ limitation was met by virtue of the fact that the new plant would ‘create jobs’ and increase the city’s tax base. Opponents contended that this wasn’t truly a ‘public use’ because the property owners’ property was simply being taken from them to be given to General Motors. The Michigan Supreme Court ruled in favor of the city.” Jacob G. Hornberger “ The Bill of Right s: Eminent Domain” (2005)

this house. My next stop if necessar y will be Mount Olivet (cemeter y).” 5


A silent rebuke to GM’s Poletown plans. 5

Poletown resident s protest what they claim was refusal

Jethro Williams wait s out the dispute on his porch on

of the city to protect their Poletown neighborhoods

Hor ton Street in Poletown.

during the dispute. 5




Planned Obsolescence The GM Hamtramck Assembly Plant was part of GM’s multi-billion dollar investment program to modernize its automobile designs and plants in the early 1980s. Heralded as a state-of-the-art facility, the plant had a modular paint system, electric (rather than hydraulic) robots, just-intime deliveries, and a plan for paperless operations. The plant is currently being re-tooled and re-organized for the assembly of the plug-in hybrid, the Chevy Volt.

How has the idea of planned obsolescence played out in state-of-the-art factories? How often do the places of production need to be re-tooled to create the newest object? What relation do the tools have to the building that contains them and, at a larger scale to the site, city, and region?




Tagging, marking, owning.

In terms of owning a vertical plane, there are multiple ways in which the surface can be appropriated. In this landscape of decreased density, the ownership of surface is dominated by taggers. Not works of art, but really just cursory defacement of property, these tags claim surfaces in the most primitive way. While there are other ways of owning surfaces, like painting entire fences or porches bright blue, the active occupants dictate what form takes over.

Right : Existing blue painted fence (with desaturation exaggerated), Danfor th Street , Hamtramck . Below: Existing tagging, Hamtramck .


Surface Breakdown In the existing landscape of this Hamtramck neighborhood, insertions of vibrant color already exist. With the church pictured, the painted foundation and window frames transform a typical house into an intentional spectacle—a destination. This condition can be distilled to a representation where the background fades to gray. Fading further, the context disappears such that only the red painted surfaces are visible. Taken one step further, the planes that these surfaces define are illustrated. This phenomenon of defining planes through painting frames can be taken on more directly by painting entire planes.

When surface becomes spectacle, rather than object, what spatial network is created? Rather than defining ownership through land plots that extrude up from the horizontal plane, what landscape is created when vertical planes are occupied? What network of planes is woven through the fabric of the neighborhood? Breaking free from the confines of the ground plane and conventional means of tagging,

how can surfaces have agency?

Above: Existing church on Grayling Street , Hamtramck .


Railroad Overpass. Denton Street , Hamtramck . Januar y 2010


Empty Lot . Denton Street , Hamtramck . Januar y 2010


White as Snow. Grayling Street , Hamtramck . Januar y 2010


Warehouse Interior Hamtramck Drive, Hamtramck . Januar y 2010


Warehouse Exterior Hamtramck Drive, Hamtramck . Januar y 2010


Branching. Alice Street , Hamtramck . Februar y 2010


Slat s. Denton Street , Hamtramck . Februar y 2010



aesthetics 35


Using an established indicator of intervention, the “fresh paint”

Through a series of interventions that take on multiple scales, the

sign is an signal of investment in the maintenance of the surface.

productivity of this landscape is forefronted.

Whether this undertaken by a government institution, a community

There is no singular object, no singular author, no singular scale, no singular surface, and no prescribed plan of the result.

organization, an elementary school class, a graffiti artist, or an individual homeowner; the effect is still the same. The color shows that the surface has worth—that the landscape is still productive.

The value of color over whiteness has been debated in architectural discourse such that the use of surface color has been criticized. Potentially distracting from the form, spatial experience, or material palette of the building for new structures, in the landscape of Hamtramck, this distraction is warranted. In a landscape that is increasingly gray, bleak, and blank; color is necessary. There is an

Rather there is a proposed network of how this idea could overlay with

attachment to color in this place: Henry Ford’s “any long

the existing urban fabric. It questions the treatment of all surfaces:

as it is black” decree, state-of-the-art paint robots filled the new GM

infrastructural objects, built form, and even deeper surfaces like the

Assembly Plant in the 1980s, and lately the removal of abandoned

ground. The tagging of these surfaces is meant to act as a catalyst.

structures from these blocks leaves the neighborhood increasingly empty and gray. The shrinking population of this neighborhood leaves the surface landscape even bleaker as more houses are abandoned, burned, and demolished.


“Color becomes weight, matter, and substance.� -Alessandro Mendini Colours (2001)



Color Medley While there would be a color prescribed for each year based on the Pantone predictions, the overall palette of the neighborhood would contain a variety of tones. Standard greens remain constant from year to year, but the remainder of the palette is a variable entity.

Fading with time, the painted surfaces are not static, but rather are subject to weathering, vandalism, and chromatic changes. The decision of when to re-paint a surface is made by the individual and might be effected by chosen hue. Also, the surface might not be repainted the same color.

What visual landscape arises when all surface colors are called into question? What palette develops when saturated color is encouraged, but not controlled?


Color Hierarchy: Houses

Siding is available in a limited palette of neutral colors. A long-term investment in the character of a building, the standard colors shy away from any statement colors that will potentially reveal the age through their hue. Tan is not easily distinguishable from faded tan, but then also the fifth tan house on the right looks a lot like the sixth tan house on the right.

Right : New housing stock on Andrus Street , Hamtramck . Left : Crane Performance Siding standard color s. Including “bone,” “clay,” countr y beige,” and “wheat” among other s.



Color Hierarchy: Cars

Operating between the permanence of a house and the impermanence of clothing, car companies unveil new hues each year, but the colors rarely change drastically. Only susceptible to the most prolific of color trends (like mid-90s turquoise), car colors have evolved since Henry Ford’s decree, but still reside in the realm of safe saturation.

Right : 2008 Ford Car color s. Above: Impor ted car s awaiting transpor t at the Por t of Richmond, California.



Color Hierarchy: Pantone

Predicting color trends for each year, Pantone drives the color palette of clothing, home furnishings, and interior paint. Unabashedly bold, the yearly colors are able to be extremely trendy since the industry is dependent on them looking dated quickly.



Inversion of the Hierarchy



“Muted colors are universally judged as tasteful: today the prejudice is as strong as ever.” Matthias Sauerbruch and Louisa Hutton “On Colour and Space” (2006)

49 For avant-garde architects, white is used to

regardless of questions of taste, in the

uniquely of this place. Ideally, it is endlessly

call attention to their work--to set it apart

property. The buildup of elements very

self-referential in that visual connections

from the landscape of traditional conceptions

obviously relates to a quantity and length of

between painted elements create an aesthetic

of color, form, and decoration. High design

time invested in the project. The surrounding

network that is about the neighborhood as

is conceived as removed from the vernacular

junk-filled backyards, leaning garages, and

an entity. Not a single object or color, but a

through desaturation. For architecture, this

pealing paint fade into the snow-covered

unified landscape of saturation.

has led to a distrust of color in favor of a

ground and cloudy sky. This is a barren

calm brought on by a single hue. An object

landscape in the winter, whether it is a

in the field, white buildings become siteless

derelict neighborhood or not.

objects. In the Poletown neighborhood of Hamtramck, Bright color currently resides in the realm of

the landscape is not a bright collage of the

the vernacular. Within a visual landscape of

vernacular, but a heavily-neutralized palette

increasing competition for visual attention,

punctuated only by graffiti and gang-related

advertising has become brighter to be louder

painted porches. While a glossy white

than the competitors. Color is kitsch. Color is

structure would stand out, it would not have

obnoxious. Color is just too much all at once.

the ability to proliferate and evolve over time into a varied palette. The white building is a

This is seen in a heightened density in

static object, deeply routed in the moment it

Hamtramck, Michigan at the site known as

was first painted.

“Disneyland�. A personal project undertaken in a single alley-adjacent backyard, the

This proposal for saturation of a

project is a layers upon layers of brightly

neighborhood by taking on multiple scales,

colored found objects. This stands out in

authors, and surfaces has the ability to adapt

the landscape because it shows investment,

and evolve over time to be something that is


landscape 51


When I stop and Gray's where that

look around me color should be Animal Collective “ What Would I Want? Sky” (2009)

54 Initial high-density development and investment

Time Lapse Saturation In this simulation, black represents value placed in the built environment by conventional means. The de-valuing of the neighborhood, which corresponded with the movement to the suburbs and increased with the detachment of this neighborhood from the residential area south of the GM Plant, is represented with the fading to gray. White, or blank, lots are representative of the emptiness. Shades of green are used to show the potential strata of my proposed

The city takes

“Massive Color� proposal

responsibility to

simulation begins

demolish abandoned structures

interventions. While some greens fade, get

Other color s are

replaced, or disappear completely; others

introduced by individuals

inspire the painting of other surfaces and ultimately a re-investment in this neighborhood. Since these interventions cannot be controlled by a single entity, there is a great variety in the hues deployed.



The Revolving Wall While graffiti artists capitalize on continuous surfaces to present their work, the subversion of a seemingly continuous plane creates a vertical landscape that incorporates the color-coded interventions with the local tagging. By scrambling the tagging when the panels are rotated independently, the tags become fragmented. Their message is undermined by this process. The resulting surface is a constantly evolving object that is both of the neighborhood, of the new building, and of something else entirely that is the conglomeration of elements.



the acceptor

the traditionalist

the subtle individualist

leaves the fence as-is

replaces all the fenceposts

paints one fencepost magenta


the purist

the neutralist

the artist

paints all the fenceposts white

paints all the fenceposts “macadamia nut� to

paints the fenceposts in a variety of colors

match the garage door

that are this year’s Pantone favorites


Program Functioning as some sort of perpendicular alley, the residential street grid is subverted as a means of reclaiming the empty spaces. Not as a comment about the abandonment of the city, but as a purposeful tool to capitalize on the new connections/paths created in opposition to the unforgiving paved street grid.

The program that inhabits these spaces functions much like a shotgun-style house. In order to connect between two streets within the existing fabric the forms are elongated. Entering on one street and exiting on another creates traffic flows that upset the rhythm of the existing one-way streets.

Above: Shotgun-style house plan. Right : View through the gap between houses to the next block , Goodson Street , Hamtramck .



“The spectacle, grasped in its totality, is both the result and the project of the existing mode of production.� Guy Debord Society of the Spectacle (1967)


Applied color is a technique used to

This residential neighborhood is not going to

enhance the spectacular qualities of an

turn into a photographic attraction by being

object. Potentially crossing the line into the

doused entirely in green paint. [Think Project

grotesque, color can be used to exaggerate

Orange] It is a proposal to brand a sparsity

the misplaced nature of an object. [Think

landscape—a spectacle through simultaneous

Bernard Tschumi’s Parc de la Villette Follies]

brightness, scale, and density.

The scale of the intervention also plays into

In terms of the effect of this spectacle on the

the spectacular nature of the project. [Think

surrounding areas, does it pull all activity

Claes Oldenburg’s Typewriter Eraser] While

into one zone, acting as a condenser? [Think

a single fluorescent green trash can be

Katamari Damacy] Or does it inspire similar

considered an outlier, a whole block of them

activity, acting as a catalyst? [Think guerrilla

starts to create a spectacle. Or, a fluorescent


green step looks like a paint mixing mistake, an entire porch is something else entirely.

Spectacle also depends on density. The proliferation of the painting by multiple authors creates a critical mass for visual discernment. [Think a yard of pink flamingos]


Ecology The ground plane in this neighborhood is being emptied as condemned buildings are demolished by the city and the scrubby grass is being mowed by the city. Instead of the ground fading to white, these deep surfaces could be used productively. Left unattended these spaces would eventually become overrun by invasive species. Instead of proposing a disaster theory style approach, these interventions would involved simple moves that increase the biodiversity, oxygen production, and groundwater retention in the area. By removing a curb to allow a low area to become a wetland from street runoff or planting a line of trees, simple gestures make the ground a productive surface. While not directly related to the proclamation of a adding pigment to show productivity, the plants themselves take on this role. The plants themselves become a recognizable part of the network of intervention through their alignment within the system.


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Infrastructure To show government investment in the neighborhood (beyond the clearing of abandoned houses) any new infrastructure is painted to highlight its appearance. Typically unnoticed, the systems in place to support the urban fabric represent their own complex network of maintenance, replacement, and efficiency. By saturating this network with color, the government agencies have agency in the neighborhood.

“Most of the time, we live our lives within these invisible systems, blissfully unaware of the artificial life, the intensely designed infrastructures that support them.� -Bruce Mau Massive Change (2004)


68 Instead of considering the existing landscape the grotesque, these interventions propose that through their saturation that they are in fact the grotesque. Potentially fantastically

Affect & The Grotesque

ugly, absurd, or of incongruous combinations the additions of color to the surface of the neighborhood build up affect that is intentionally jarring.

The area has been subjected to all sorts of industrially grotesque practices over the years— massive scale changes to the landscape in the name of progress. As the automotive industry moves elsewhere, the new grotesque is massive and colorful.

1910 1955 The Dodge Main Plant opens in Hamtramck .

The Dodge 1955 models at the peak

of the plant’s lifespan in Hamtramck .


The Dodge Main Plant is demolished.


1985 Through controver sial eminent domain practices, a GM Plant is opened on the expanded Dodge Main site which includes surrounding neighborhood. The new plant is equipped with state-of-the-ar t technology, including paint robot s, which reduce the anticipated number of employees.


Daycare +Revolving Wall



Car wash +Painted Surface



Wetland +Infrastructure +Painted Surface +Tagger



Painted Surface +Tagger



Revolving Wall +Painted Surface +Infrastructure



Constructed Wetland +Tagger



In order to investigate physically how bracket s can create programmable space, the project is represented using painted, stacked acr ylic sections strung together with wire that represent s the alignment s with existing site context . These models are then placed on vellum with the contextual layer s printed on it . The actual project sites are cut out to show the areas of inter vention.





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massive color: a saturation proposal for the shrinking city  

"grotesque" studio work, winter 2010. volume three of three

massive color: a saturation proposal for the shrinking city  

"grotesque" studio work, winter 2010. volume three of three