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Housing Operative

12.06.07 | technician | In real estate, eastern market, bloomfield hills, cranbrook

Is it possible to build a house in Detroit cheap enough to give away? According to the two men behind the design firm Housing Operative the answer is yes and the cost is around $60,000. Brick by brick, rather a cinderblock by block, with donations, help from many volunteers, and a lot of sweat one new house is rising on the east side of Detroit.

They bought the patch of land from a nightclub owner for $2,000 and two go-go cages Miller fabricated with a welding torch. In April, they poured the concrete footers, 30 inches wide and 11 inches deep.

Since then, one or both have worked every day — raising the walls, insulating, laying the water line they had to disguise so no one would steal the copper pipe. If the gods and the weather are kind, they will finish by Christmas. Then they will give the house away.
Desperate need for housing

Gardner, 41, and Miller, 29, are not builders, or at least they didn’t used to be. They’re architects, friends from the master’s program at the Cranbrook Academy of Art and partners in a new design firm they call HousingOperative.

Miller grew up in West Virginia; Gardner in Texas. They came here to learn, not settle, but they were swept up in the simultaneous desolation and potential of the city. “An amazing and sometimes awful place,” Gardner calls it, “and awful in amazing ways, because it offers so much possibility.”

As graduate students, they lived at Cranbrook, surrounded by wooded beauty on a 319-acre campus bordered by mansions. It was a reminder of who they were being educated to serve, the upper 2 percent on the income scale.

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