For a few years now, the Detroit Center of Design + Technology through Lawrence Technological University’s College of Architecture and Design has played host to visiting scholars from around the world. One of our retuning groups has been students from the Netherlands who use our space as their sustainability hub. The Motown Movement is a non-profit born out of the architecture studies at the Technological University of Delft in the Netherlands. Students from all areas of study have banded together to answer the question, “Why doesn’t everyone fight against climate change with the technologies already at hand?” Each year a new cohort enters the non profit. These Motown Movement students, although working with their university and Lawrence Technological University do not receive school credit. This is a project from the heart that allows them to travel to Detroit, embed themselves in our community and work VERY hard to make a positive change. Since arriving at the DCDT this past January, I see Ida, Chris, Casper, Joost, Joanna, Arjan and Owen hunkered down in front of their computers on a daily basis and they’ve taken over our fridge with healthy, organic meals that force me to rethink my shopping habits. (Damn them) Wanting to know more about this group and what drives them, I asked Casper, head of marketing to sit down with me for an interview.
The Motown Movement's current cohorts and their field of study;
AB: So Casper, tell me a bit about the Motown Movement and why you got involved.
C: Students in our Architecture department were the non profit founders and started this project in 2016 then continually passed it down to next year students after they graduated. The Motown Movement isn’t tied to university but we collaborate with professors. This is personal to us. For me, the sustainability part and the fact that I was always into entrepreneurship moved me to join this movement. The Motown Movement cohorts have been traveling back and forth to Detroit for about 3 years, coming in a couple of months a year. Every year there’s a new group. This current cohort leaves in July and in September another group of students will be chosen to spend a half a year in Netherlands and a few months in Detroit or another state. The Motown Movement has been with LTU for the past 2 years and we’re often in touch with Scott Shall, Associate Professor and Associate Dean of the College. Actually he is one of our biggest supporters and has become a friend…
“It has been an absolute pleasure to partner with the Motown Movement over the last several years.
- Scott Shall, Associate Professor and Associate Dean of the College of Architecture and Design at Lawrence Technological University and Founding Director, International Design Clinic.
AB: Why did you chose Detroit for your first initiative?
C: Besides the unique opportunity to buy a $1,000 dollar house in Detroit, the spirit and climate were other incentives to settle in the city. The downfall of the Detroit stimulated an inexhaustible resilience under locals to rebuild the city THEY love. Inspired by the Motor City’s DIY spirit, we see great potential in implementing our modern but down to earth technologies in the current reconstruction of the lost glory. Secondly, the extreme Michigan winters and summers are a perfect place for us to test our sustainable techniques. If we can do it here, we can do it everywhere in the world!
AB: You mentioned that future Motown Movement cohorts may choose “another state,” does that mean you’re expanding this project?
C: We focused on Detroit for the first project, in fact we’re still working on the original house we started with, and if the proof of concept works out then either we’re moving to another neighborhood in Detroit or to another state. We’ve actually received offers from inside the Netherlands to do the same work.
AB: It must be difficult not being here, in Detroit for most of the year. How has that affected your project?
C: We’ve definitely had setbacks. In 2018, there was an arson fire that began in the basement that stopped the project for the year. We know it was arson because the house was boarded up and something was thrown into the basement. The project was halted because we weren’t legally allowed to enter the building until we could pay for its repair, and that took a while. This year we collected enough funds to repaid the damage and re-start the project. Another challenge has been the contractors that weren’t trustworthy that set the project back: lack of oversight. We do have a community team member from the neighborhood but they’re only involved with the concept and getting local people involved, not with the construction.
AB: Is the home modeled after something you’ve seen?
C: No. We came up with the concept. For us, it’s more to show people who want to do something similar, what they can do with a minimal amount of money. We’re guiding people to lower their energy bills that are relatively high because of poor insulation and other factors. We are detailing the model and project for the next set of cohorts. The techniques we use to make the house sustainable and environmentally friendly are applicable in every household, fancy or small, and they can be used in all environments (hot or cold). Everything starts in the home - many people don’t know what sustainability is. There were some people who told us they leave open the fridge for 10 minutes because they didn’t know it was sucking up energy. They took if for granted, but when you show people they can save $50 per month by dong simple things, then the ideas begin to take hold.
AB: Have you seen resistance to this project in the community?
C: No and that’s funny… for me, we’re these white, European guys and gals coming through trying to make a difference but everyone received us really well. There’s been big attendance to our community events and people are working with us to help. The community has always been there for us. We will be having a big party for the community when the house is open and get media there to showcase our project and new friends.
AB: When do you expect the house to be livable?
C: Hoping to open the house this summer and move a family into the upper two floors. Motown Movement is the owner of the property and we have a real estate agent managing the property. The Community Center portion of the building (basement and first floor) is managed by Focus Hope. The first floor is workshop and lecture space where we’ll program workshops on sustainability and offer startup space to set up businesses. Two vacant lots are in the back that we use as a garden, which is working already - last summer crops were grown. The elementary school, Glazer, across the street has adopted the garden for their 10-13 yr old students. They and their teacher are growing crops and flowers in the garden. Gardening is like meditating. Kids can use the computers and play games inside the house and use the garden, outside. The adults are interested in growing their own food too, like urban farms (link out). When you are involved in the process of growing you act more consciously about how much you eat and what’s good for the environment and what’s not. When people realize that their food has a life, they are more attached.
We're guiding people to lower their energy bills that are relatively high because of poor insulation
AB: Speaking of community, who is teaching the community about your mission after you leave Detroit?
C: We’re always look for collaborations but have partners; an energy company, Walker-Miller an energy and appliance space, Ecoworks, a company focused on sustainability and we’re talking to a solar energy company who will organize workshops, and gather locals and children to teach them sustainability. The community space will be open during specific hours for people to drop in and there will be someone there all the time.
AB: We talked about your set backs, what about your success?
C: We had a tough time collecting all of the funds after the fire but finally we made it! Another big win was to actually overcome the fire damage and do the physical rebuilding. Our big plans were set aside but now we can move forward quickly. And we are part of the process, we don’t just sit in front of computers. Sometimes we get our hands dirty, teaching community. The project is hands on, we do most of the construction work ourselves; insulation; painting; installing the kitchen appliances; and digging the garden. I’ve always fixed things, like my bicycle. We’ve all come with a little knowledge of building but don’t have a lot of experience in construction so our community partners mentor us through the process.
AB: How can people get involved or use your space or donate to your project once you’re back in Delft?
C: Oh, that’s easy… Anyone who wants to support the Motown Movement can email us at email@example.com. We’ll share their request with one of our Detroit partners and they’ll respond with information. And even though we’ll be gone by the beginning of July, we’re transferring all documentation in August to the new cohorts and we’ll stay involved as mentors.
It's been a COMPLETE pleasure having our friends from The Motown Movement grace the Detroit Center for Design + Technology this summer and although I'll miss them, I'm looking forward to meeting the new contingent.