Lafayette Park, Detroit, is one of my favorite places in America. Designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe with landscape architect Alfred Caldwell and planner Ludwig Hilberseimer and built by Chicago developer Herbert Greenwald between 1956 and 1963, Lafayette Park consists of 24 single-story courtyard houses (with two to four bedrooms), 162 two-story attached co-ops, and three high-rise rental buildings, the Pavilion and the two Towers. The high-rises are silvery, the courthouses nestle behind buff brick walls, and the co-ops are framed in black steel with windows edged in stainless, providing material variety within the vertical and horizontal grids. The 78-acre site was declared a National Historic Landmark this summer.
But Lafayette Park is more than a design fetishist’s paradise. Its location and its landscape suggest ways of living in a city that are totally current, and its residents (many there for decades) are better linked to the rest of Detroit than the district’s self-containment might suggest. Detroit’s future may lie in building out the spaces between the structures it already has, making connections, not architecture.