The ruins of Detroit


Michigan Central Station.

Photos from Yves Marchand & Romain Meffre (above) and Forgotten Detroit (below), the latter being an extensive catalogue of urban dereliction.


The station waiting room.

Update: Environmental Graffiti today has a post speculating which American cities might be the lost cities of the future. Detroit is number three; go here to see which others they choose.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Ephemeral architecture
The temples of Angkor
St Pancras in Spheroview
Adolph Sutro’s Gingerbread Palace
Hungarian water towers

12 thoughts on “The ruins of Detroit”

  1. I’d met with writer Gail Siegel a month ago and I was telling her how I love to photograph ruins and she told me about Detroit and how the whole center had that ghost town feel. I am glad to see it now in pictures, it is truly amazing.

  2. Detroit’s largely forgotten urban districts have served as the setting for multiple American films of the fantastic, unfortunately the only one that comes to mind right now is ‘The Crow’ . A talented director or editor could probably make Detroit seem like America’s equivalent to the Prague of Kafka, Meyrink, and Leppin.

  3. There’s quite a range of sites devoted to urban ruins but Detroit has more than most, unsurprisingly. One of my favourite collections (which has been linked all over) concerns this Japanese island.

    I was wondering whether Detroit had been used as a setting for films or not, it seems like too good a location to ignore.

  4. Ah….the glorious beauty of what once was the aqua tiles of the round aqaurium in Belle Isle…Detroit is a virtual storehouse of artwork begging to be seen, every day, every street and alley.

  5. I live in Detroit, and yes it is fantastic. Unfortunately our cultural legacy is not recognized by our civic leaders, and these fantastic monuments are being lost. it is a testament of this town’s transition from being amongst the wealthiest in the world to one of the poorest in the U.S. It speaks volumes on the topics of racial and social inequality, changing economies and America’s unquenchable desire for disposable items.

  6. Downtown Detroit is a strange and desolate place. Blocks and blocks of large deserted buildings. And a monorail! It all has a bit of a post-apocalyptic feel.

  7. The Japanese gallery is great, my fave is actually the first picture just of the dismal horizon outline. It sets the tone well.

  8. I’m pretty sure those island pics didn’t have a big slogan stamped on them before. A shame as it rather spoils things.

  9. In response to some of the comments on this website, I’d like to provide some feedback. The one comment that jumps out at me is from Wiley, where he or she stated that Detroit was used as the backdrop for many American movies and that the Crow was the only one that came to mind. That is incorrect, “The Crow” starring the late Brandon Lee, was not filmed in Detroit. The actual street scenes were filled in Chicago, LA, and some in NYC but none of the movie was filmed there. The story was set in Detroit but not filmed in Detroit. Now some movies that were filmed entirely or partially in Detroit, from recent to oldest were: Transformers, The Island, 8 Mile, Four Brothers, Narc, Assault on Precinct 13, *61, a European film called The American Beauty, Detroit Rock City, Hoffa, Renaissance Man, Collision Course, Tiger Town, Presumed Innocent, Detroit 9000, and State of the Union with Spencer Tracey. Those are just 15 and if you really thought hard about it, you could find more. Next, I would like to point out that the ‘ghost town’ that people speak of is an over-exaggeration of what Detroit is. During the work week and the afternoon and evening on weekends, the city is hoping with a lot of things going on. The crime that people automatically associate with Detroit is really unfounded. However, the disconnect that is ongoing with each city administration going back as far as Mayor Von Antwerp and Mayor Cobo with Detroit history and heritage is real and its disturbing. Every mayor for the last 40 years felt that if you can demolish at least one large abandoned building in the city people will rally to your side. I spent that last 4 years rehabbing abandoned buildings downtown and turning them into loft condos and until the housing market bottomed out, these places were selling faster than we could build them. Detroit’s biggest problems are not crime, vacant buildings and a weak economy, its high taxes, poor public services and terrible schools. The people that bought the lofts I built were: empty nesters, singles / married with no kids, or gays. The one thing they all had in common were no children and a disposable income. If Detroit ever wants to lure more than those few resident types back to the city, they have to have a strong and confident police force, efficient public agencies and rock solid schools. That is the only way they can get strong and stay strong. Now the majority of citizens will say “it’s the white man’s fault we are weak” or “it’s the suburban governments’ fault that we’re weak’ but at the end of the day if Detroiters want someone to blame for their lot in life, they need only to look in mirror. I am an architect and self educated Detroit historian and lecturer on Detroit’s history, culture and architecture (gooogle Lucas McGrail for some of my articles) and the only group I can see that has any blame to bear are the citizens of Detroit. I love the city; I am a 25 year resident of the city and even I can say she is a cruel mistress… you love her, you hate her, you want to leave her, you can’t live without her. But all that being said, there is no other city where you can find a Coney dog at 2am, a Techno club at 4 am and attend church services at 6am. Where else can you look at a 1.5 billion dollar art collection, the largest African American cultural museum in country, drink the second best treated water in the country, visit a park designed by Fredrick Law Olmsted, see a fountain designed by HH Richardson, visit the prototype building for the World Trade Center and study the best examples of the Art Deco Movement in the Midwest? Right there in Detroit.

  10. Wow, i have recently taken an interest in Detroit and the story of its not deserted buildings, and as Lucas McGrail has mentioned, i have not yet seen one thing wrong with these buildings through my research. The art in some of those buildings including the Michigan station are masterpieces. More pride should have been taken in the care of those buildings and it is truly a shame to see such architectural wonders go to waste. On the main point however, Detroit, to me, has proved to be a colorful and art filled city that should have more people being amazed and astounded by its buildings. Of course it is a shame that Detroit has fallen so far from its high point however, that should not be a downer. Add some adventure and wonder and look around at the art you all live in.

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