revitalize, regenerate, and return

a plan for deconstructing detroit




Blighted properties in Detroit are being razed.  There are currently 80,000 properties that have been, or are scheduled to be demolished. With the cost of demolition ranging between $5,000-$25,000 per property the estimated total cost to demolish these structures is $2bn. There is a potential to salvage material from these buildings by deconstructing them instead of demolishing them, and using that material in the revitalization and regeneration of Detroit.  That potential is prohibited by the cost of deconstruction being nearly twice that of demolition.  






The poverty, blight, and population decline within the city limits is contrasted by the wealth of its suburban and surrounding regional communities.  As many within Detroit are working to retain, rebuild, and revitalize Detroit’s culture and communities, we are considering how the built environment should respond to these needs in economically, environmentally, and ethically sustainable ways. 

At a neighborhood scale the impacts of the blight and demolition becomes more defined.  In some cases, entire blocks are in the demolition process, and we can start to analyze lot sizes, neighborhood densities, and street access as logistical input for an automated deconstruction process, i.e. constraints and needs regarding the placement and size of equipment, and transportation to and from the site.

In understanding material components and their construction we are able to design a palette of the necessary tools to deconstruct a building in a way that increases efficiency as related to time, the quantity of salvaged material, and labor costs.  This also allows us to assess what materials are currently recyclable and look at new ways to reuse and recycle materials for which no process currently exists.






It is important to understand the makeup of the existing building stock, what properties are blighted, and those which will remain to design a platform with the appropriate scale and capabilities.


Spatial scans provide the necessary data to control movement of the machines through space and their interaction with the structures they will be salvaging.  Through these scans, individual elements are mapped creating a digital matrix. 

Before Element Mapping and Sequencing 

Before Element Mapping and Sequencing 

After Element Mapping and Sequencing

After Element Mapping and Sequencing


Because of dimensional constraints of lot sizes and the structures on them, an omni-directional mobility platform is ideal as a method for deploying mechnical components throughout the site.


We studied the movement of brain coral and the theory behind spherical tread patterns to inform the design of the external housing.  We also studied how to maintain level for the components inside the housing while providing movement in 360 degrees.


The challenge posed by the loads being carried by the robotic components and how to balance them on a sphere.  






The solution we propose is an alternating grid of positive and negative electromagnetic charges that operates on the principles magnetic levitation.  This is how we control movement around the z-axis as well as how the connection between the sphere and the cylinder above.


The components seen above create the nerve center for controlling the movement of the deconstruction platform through space.  The gyroscope and accelerometer provide information about acceleration in all three directions, and rotations around each axis. Gravity provides a background direction for the accelerometer. By adding one more absolute directional sensor - a 3-axis magnetometer we can accommodate for the variable changes that will address the drift of the other 2 sensors. Motor and a battery back-up in the central module power the wheels and the sensors keep the ball upright at all times. Adding the battery to the lowest part of the module lowers the center of gravity and improves stability.


The telescoping extension increases the vertical reach of the robotic arms, while the rotating base that attaches to the telescopicing cylinder allows all of the arms to operate in 360 degrees.


The composition of these components is the platform through which we are able to revitalize neighborhoods affected by blight. Once the material is salvaged it can be used to regenerate the strong architectural and cultural identity of these neighborhoods.