Gilbert’s Brush Park plan offers bold new look in Detroit


Since the Lafayette Park project half a century ago, Detroit has not seen a housing development as ambitious as Dan Gilbert’s Brush Park project, which will lay the foundation in a few weeks.

For one, the project – about 100 units for sale and about 300 rental apartments on 8.4 acres north of downtown – will be at the high end of the price range for any rental or sales in the greater downtown area if it opens in a year or so .

More importantly, Gilbert’s people are breaking new ground in architecture. Gone are the faux historical styles that marked so many of Detroit’s recent projects. Rather than duplicating the peaked roofs, gables, chimneys, and bay windows that go for authenticity, Gilbert’s team went for a bold modernist look.

This will be unlike any other housing project in Detroit. The clearest analogy could be Lafayette Park. Built in the 1950s and under the direction of the modernist master Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, slender glass and steel buildings with flat roofs and large glass surfaces were introduced, which were connected to a well thought-out park-like plan. It created something new in Detroit and is still one of the most successful neighborhoods in the city.

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Gilbert’s team told me that the Brush Park project has the same goal – ushering Detroit into a new era of residential design that will set a standard for the quality of materials and urban planning. To this end, the new modernist buildings will be integrated into four of Brush Park’s historic Victorian villas, which will be preserved and renovated.

“We didn’t play it safe,” said Steve Ogden, development director at Gilberts Bedrock Real Estate Services. “It’s not your father’s Oldsmobile.”

Project costs were originally estimated at $ 70 million but will be higher, Gilbert’s team said, although the final cost is not yet estimated.

Of course, we’ll have to wait for the final build to see if the reality matches the vision. Sometimes amazing designs are compromised due to budget constraints and other challenges along the way to the final cutting of ribbons. So far, however, this project promises to be what Detroit’s Planning Director Maurice Cox calls something completely new in modern urban development.

“I don’t think Detroit has ever seen anything like it,” said Cox. “So many of the new parts of the modern era were completed in one fell swoop, entire areas demolished and existing residents removed.”

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However, the Brush Park design aims to combine the new with the iconic Victorian mansions that are preserved without trying to imitate them.

“I had the feeling very early on that we were getting into something that could really make Detroit stand out from other parts of the city that are being built and that we can show that contemporary new architecture fits in well with historic neighborhoods,” said Cox. “We’re writing the new story of historic neighborhoods in Brush Park.”

Versatile neighborhood

Modernist in this case doesn’t mean an endless row of similar looking flat roof buildings. Gilbert’s team has worked with five architectural firms led by Detroit-based Hamilton Anderson Associates to produce a variety of styles that vary widely in height, material, and overall look. “It reminds people of the way neighborhoods felt when you could walk down the street and there were a multitude of buildings,” Cox said.

The designs range from multi-storey residential buildings to two-storey “carriage houses” and “doublets” or buildings with two apartments on top of each other with extra high ceilings. The materials on the exterior of the various buildings range from glass and steel to brick and cedar.

Roof terraces – the project’s nod to backyards and community gardens – play a key role. They will be found in various heights and configurations throughout the district. Also among these various buildings are alleys with surfaces that absorb rainwater and snowmelt, and a park-like greenway that is open to residents and the public.

Stylistically, this project is one step ahead of projects such as the Crosswinds Communities units built a decade ago in the Brush Park Community along Woodward. The design of Crosswinds townhouses echoed some of the historic Victorian mansions that have been preserved in Brush Park. Gilbert’s people rejected this approach.

“There are still some community members who say you should have just recreated Crosswinds or just recreated historic Victorian single-family homes,” said Melissa Dittmer, director of architecture and town planning at Gilbert’s Bedrock Real Estate Services. “In the end, we felt that this would be almost disrespectful to the existing historical architecture and that it is best for our time to design in a style, an aesthetic.”

positive reviews

The project is already gaining positive reviews. The New Urbanism Congress, an architecture and planning association, held its annual conference in Detroit last week and awarded the project the grand prize for design.

Steve Rosenthal, director of Gilberts Bedrock real estate company and president of Rock Companies, a real estate development company operating in six states, said anything that tried to recreate the classic Brush Park mansions had failed architecturally and financially anyway.

“What was done before us doesn’t work in our head,” he said.

Rainy Hamilton, co-founder and director of lead architect Hamilton Anderson, said the contrast between the modernist style and the older Victorian mansions will create a dynamic project.

“I think it will raise the bar,” he said. “This city has not seen contemporary design in a while. When these products go online it will be an eye opener and very attractive and engaging. “

No prices yet

While prices have not yet been set, rental and purchase prices will reflect this advancement, from entry-level homes to more expensive units for sale and then to cheaper units for senior citizens.

The project will respond to the demand for affordable housing for longtime Detroit residents with limited incomes by bringing all units in the senior housing into the affordable range. Rosenthal said some other affordable units will be spread across the project.

Another version of

The rapid pace of downtown redevelopment has driven rental and condominium prices soaring, making a more upscale project like Gilbert’s efforts possible.

“I firmly believe that good design will add real estate value and improve community aspects in every way,” said Dittmer. “While this will end up costing more, it will provide a better product and community that Brush Park’s existing residents will be proud of, and it will also boost their property values ​​down to the historic homes that exist there. “

“Increased Urbanism”

Dittmer said the team tried to create an environment where residents can “age on the spot,” rent an apartment when they are young, then buy a carriage house when they have a family, and eventually settle for Retiring seniors to an apartment. In order to provide the necessary services, the project is also planning retail and commercial space of up to 20,000 square meters, a health center open to all residents and several parking spaces.

In addition to Hamilton Anderson Associates, Christian Hurttienne Architects from Grosse Pointe Park, Lorcan O’Herlihy Architects (LOHA) from Los Angeles, Merge Architects from Boston and Studio Dwell from Chicago were other architecture firms that designed parts of the project.

Lorcan O’Herlihy, founder of the LOHA firm, said the project is adding enough retail and other amenities to create what he calls “enhanced urbanism,” a catalyst for growth beyond the immediate district promote.

“This creates a neighborhood and it’s always important to look at not just the buildings in terms of the apartments, but also the other amenities,” he said. “So that not only people who live in Brush Park, but also people in neighboring communities come to eat, meet people, shop, this is a very active, pulsating urban area.”

Win the project

Mayor Mike Duggan announced in May 2015 that a Gilbert entity, the Brush Park Development Company, had been granted the right to redevelop the extensive property north of Edmund Street, west of John R, east of Brush and the south is bounded by Alfred.

Detroit businessmen and citizens investing in the Brush Park Development Company include Marvin Beatty, Sam Thomas, Pam Rodgers, and Darrell Burks. and Freman Hendrix and Gilberts Bedrock Real Estate Services.

Gilbert’s team won the project in competition with eight other teams who submitted proposals. The winning proposal included a commitment that 51% of construction workers would be based in Detroit and that 31% of total construction costs would be spent on contractors in Detroit.

Since winning the project a little over a year ago, the Gilbert team has engaged city officials and residents of Brush Park in dozens of meetings to pinpoint street details and architectural designs.

The project involves the restoration of four historic Victorian homes within the project area, including the recently renovated Ransom Gillis house at 205 Alfred Street. Other Brush Park mansions to be restored and renovated include 261 Alfred, 287 Alfred and 295 Alfred.

Detroit-based architect Brian Hurttienne, who worked on the preservation of the four mansions, said the city of Detroit deserved to have mothballed the four houses in the past 15 years for future renovations. And he added that the mix of Victorian and modern architecture will work well.

“What is designed today is for today,” he said, “and it’s in complete contrast to what was built in the 19th century. I think it’s pretty appropriate that they mix and mix and it is a really great urban design just outside of downtown Detroit. ” . “

Five cool facts in the Brush Park project

1. Multiple rooftop terraces form the urban equivalent of backyards and community gardens.

2. Projects enable residents to “age on the spot” and move from rental to family-style condominiums to senior citizens

3. A park-like greenway crosses the project as a leisure facility.

4. Modernist architecture creates a bold new look for Detroit’s revival.

5. Lots of retail and commercial space on the ground floor of some buildings.

Contact John Gallagher: 313-222-5173 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @jgallagherfreep.


Dusty Kennedy