Building Stories: Critical Geography of Architecture and the Study of Everyday Practice in Detroit, Michigan

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Virginia Tech

In Loretta Lees's study of a new public library in Vancouver in the late 1990's, she began to explore the ideals of non-representational theories, or those everyday practices that provide evidence not just of what symbolic meaning one may assign to a space, but rather what that space does—how it is enacted through everyday practice. This exploration provided Lees with another way to think about the built environment, one that she believed could open up a new direction for architectural geographers. Lees, building on the work of Jon Goss and other contemporary scholars in the field, described this new direction as a move towards a critical geography of architecture. This dissertation explores the use of a non-representational framework to study everyday practices through a single case study in the Avenue of Fashion in Detroit, Michigan. This research considers the historical evolution of Detroit through bankruptcy to present day using two common narratives of the city, one of rise/rebirth and one of Two Detroits, to offer a critical lens through which to consider performances of everyday life in this recently redeveloped area of the city. Within a non-representational framework, this study pulls in direct observational methods such as counting, mapping/tracing, photo documentation, trace observation, and field notes derived primarily from public life studies to observe and consider how the built environment is shaped through these embodied practices. This study contributes both an example of alternative methods that may be used in non-representational research, as well as new way to think about spaces that complements findings from more representational research. The findings from this study inspire a curiosity about the unfolding of everyday life and contribute to the work of Lees and others in advancing a critical geography of architecture.

non-representational theories, geography of architecture, Detroit, direct observation, urban geography, public life studies