The 2007 collapse of the American housing market dealt a heavy blow to the city of Detroit, and not even the lofty high-design visions of modernist icon Mies van der Rohe could escape the city’s tidal wave of disaster. Two twinned high-rises designed by the German architect in Detroit’s Lafayette Park were foreclosed in February of this year, according to Curbed Detroit, and now the city’s Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has announced that the buildings will be up for auction later this month. On July 18, one lucky, deep-pocketed bidder will walk away with rights to both Lafayette Towers and all 584 of their apartments.
Be warned, however, that the prized high-rises come with an enormous asterisk. As Curbed reports, the buyer will be contractually obligated to shell out over $10 million to execute a detailed, 80-page list of renovations, ranging from a handful of new peepholes to a sweeping overhaul of the buildings’ bathtubs. On top of that, the buyer must deposit just over $2.5 million into an escrow account that HUD can access in the event that repairs are not on schedule, as evidenced in the illustrated quarterly progress reports the buyer will be required to send.
HUD’s comprehensive list of repairs is a fine print nightmare for developers but a blessing for Mies’s 1960s-era architecture. Lafayette Park and its token pair of modernist steel-and-glass towers are part of a remarkable mid-century urban redevelopment project in Motor City. In the 1940s, the area had been classified as a “slum” and subsequently razed and abandoned until Detroit lured in Mies van der Rohe and famed urban planner Ludwig Hilberseimer to evaluate the site and spearhead one of the first attempts at urban renewal in the nation. Though the Towers continue to symbolize the triumph of public policy, their foreclosure is a reminder of a recent crisis precipitated by the American city’s increasing privatization. Unfortunately, what Mies’s Lafayette Towers need now is a hero, and a very rich one at that.