Flint, Michigan was once home to GM, serving as a vital hub in the American automotive industry. But in the 1990s it emerged as a bellwether for Rust Belt cities, plagued by financial mismanagement and an outsized foreclosure rate. Earlier this year, the city launched a competition that asked architects to re-imagine one of its many empty lots — and the ghostly winner was recently unveiled to the public.
The downtown Flint parking lot where the competition took place isn’t actually “empty”. It was once home to several Saginaw Street buildings — which were eventually razed — and later, a parking lot. But since then, according to the Flint chapter of the American Institute of Architects, it’s become a staging area for all kinds of public events: parades, races, markets and so on. In its own way, it’s a vibrant public space.
So, the idea behind the AIA’s Flat Lot Competition wasn’t to make use of an abandoned space — it was to give the burgeoning public space a shelter and pavilion. “The Flat Lot will be a new centre and symbol for the city,” explained organisers in the competition brief, “an attraction for regional visitors, and a site that amplifies the many existing events that help define cultural life in Flint.”
The winning design came from London studio Two Islands, which imagined their proposal — called “Mark’s House” — as a monument to a fictional Flint resident named Mark (stay with us here). “A record 750 homes were demolished last year, including the small 1890s Tudor-style property that was once Mark’s home,” write the architects. “Mark’s story reminds us that homes have been lost and that these homes belonged to families. But also that we have the power to renew our city and its memories… [The] house celebrates this sentiment, as it mirrors and reflects back the trees, the streets, the sill windows, and the midwestern sky, and most importantly, the people of Flint.”
Mark’s House is wrapped in a thin mirrored skin of mylar, creating the illusion of a Tudor-style home that floats above the parking lot. Under its gables, an undulated mass of lights show the faces of 882 donors who supported the project. And what’s inside the massive mirrored volume? According to the original design brief, it’s a 5678-litre water tank — which streams water from the eaves on hot days. As strong as the concept is, nothing beats a water feature.
Pictures: DesignBoom, Gavin Smith, Jacquie Gagne