The Duplette, in its initial incarnation, represents a unique residential type that hybridizes the maisonette apartment and duplex home within the redeveloped Brush Park neighborhood of Detroit. The building’s surroundings were 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 suffer abandonment, decay, and demolition as residents scattered 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. The street grid of boulevards and alleyways was preserved and augmented by a pedestrian mews that connects blocks of townhomes, apartment blocks, and the few remaining Victorian mansions.
Situated at the neighborhood’s northern edge along the meandering mews, the Duplette arranges units – ranging from studio to 3 bedroom – to create pockets of outdoor space that permit visual and physical porosity between the existing urban fabric and new development. Balconies, stoops, and courtyards are scaled and situated to both blur the boundaries of the streetscape and buffer unit interiors from the public way.
The larger units, a hybrid of the European ‘maisonette’ apartment and American ‘duplex’, are laid out across two levels with an internal stair. Paired and aggregated, these blocks alternate with lobbies and outdoor spaces to echo the rhythm of historic homes across the street. The building’s scale is further reduced by angled subtractions and shifts in window locations. These subtractive shifts in massing are inverted at the material scale by a masonry method derived from the neighboring mansions; brick headers in the Flemish bond protrude to add texture and shadow to the facades.
In both spatial configuration and material constitution, the Duplette creates a fine-grained urban experience that modulates between the existing historic and contemporary context while providing a model for sensitive infill development in Detroit and beyond.