Encyclopedia Of Detroit

Mies van der Rohe Residential District, Lafayette Park

Completed in 1956, the Mies van der Rohe Residential District is considered one of America's most successful post-World War II urban redevelopment projects, and is located in Detroit just east of Chrysler Freeway and roughly bounded by Rivard Street, Lafayette Avenue, Orleans Street and Antietam Street. Its 46 acres encompasses three distinct but carefully connected sections: on the western side are 21 multiple-unit townhomes and a high-rise apartment building; down the center runs Lafayette Park, 13 acres of greenery, recreation facilities, and a school; and farther east are twin apartment towers and a shopping center. Together the district comprises the world's largest collection of buildings designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, widely considered one of the century's greatest architects.

Herbert Greenwald, Mies van der Rohe, Ludwig Hilberseimer, and Alfred Caldwell set out to create a integrated community that would "attract [people] back to the heart of the city." Caldwell and Hilberseimer designed a naturalistic landscape that subordinated Detroit's most famous product to the needs of people, in part by dropping roadways and parking lots four feet below grade.

The district's birth was not without controversy. Lafayette Park replaced the former Black Bottom neighborhood, an enclave of African-American residents in a city already beginning to lose its population to the suburbs. Mayor Albert Cobo and others believed that if they could replace the aging buildings in Black Bottom with a modern district of high-quality homes, then a racially diverse neighborhood might help the city hold on to its people. While the success of their work can be measured by the praise it has received over the years, perhaps a better recommendation comes in the low turnover and high occupancy rates the project continues to enjoy thirty years after its construction.