The Carriage Home is a reimagination of a historic garage precedent as a paired residential unit type with a shared courtyard. This new pair is then aggregated to form five blocks – of 53 units total – along alleys within the latest transformation of the Brush Park neighborhood.
Their context, blocks outside of downtown Detroit, was developed in the late 19th century as an affluent enclave of mansions and boulevards, carriage houses and alleyways.The 20th century, however, saw the neighborhood decline as Motown’s motor vehicles sent waves of urban residents scattering to suburbs. When Merge was approached in 2016 to participate in the area’s redevelopment as City Modern, Brush Park was a shadow of its former self. The first large-scale development in Detroit since Mies van der Rohe’s 1956 Lafayette Park, City Modern is something of a misnomer, differing from the Modernist model by honoring the neighborhood’s past. Surviving Victorian homes have been rehabilitated and the existing street grid preserved. Boulevards are no longer lined by mansions but apartment buildings and townhomes to create a dense, diverse, and resilient urban district befitting the 21st century.
Merge’s primary contribution to the development is sited along a revived network of alleyways. To make these formerly utilitarian spaces integral to the broader development and serve both the automobile and pedestrian, the carriage house type underwent a series of mutations. The double-wide garage was rearranged to create an elongated massing with a single garage and entry along the alley. The block-through units were then arrayed to create a street edge that is both consistent – to define the alley as a hybrid street/ sidewalk – and carved – to form pockets of social space at stoops and keyhole entry forecourts.
These public outdoor spaces are balanced by private ones within the block. Notches within each unit pair align to shape shared courtyards that frame the sky and bring daylight to the deep interiors. Rather than the traditional gable, roofs are angled and uplifted to accommodate double-height interiors and allow access to roof decks. This roofscape of seesawing slopes – manipulated to provide privacy where desired – also accommodates a between-backyards kind of neighborly communication and provides an elevated urban realm for adjacent apartments to overlook. Taken together, the result of these mutations is no longer a Carriage House, but a Carriage Home; a place not just for the auto-carriage so synonymous with Detroit, but the residents that make it a vibrant city.