The Ruins of Detroit
Text and photos by Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre
At the end of the XIXth Century, mankind was about to fulfill an old
dream. The idea of a fast and autonomous means of displacement was
slowly becoming a reality for engineers all over the world. Thanks to
its ideal location on the Great Lakes Basin, the city of Detroit was
about to generate its own industrial revolution. Visionary engineers
and entrepreneurs flocked to its borders.
In 1913, up-and-coming car manufacturer Henry Ford perfected the first
large-scale assembly line. Within few years, Detroit was about to
become the world capital of automobile and the cradle of modern
mass-production. For the first time of history, affluence was within
the reach of the mass of people. Monumental skyscapers and fancy
neighborhoods put the city’s wealth on display. Detroit became the
dazzling beacon of the American Dream. Thousands of migrants came to
find a job. By the 50's, its population rose to almost 2 million people.
Detroit became the 4th largest city in the United States.
The automobile moved people faster and farther. Roads, freeways and
parking lots forever reshaped the landscape. At the beginning of the
50's, plants were relocated in Detroit's periphery. The white
middle-class began to leave the inner city and settled in new
mass-produced suburban towns. Highways frayed the urban fabric.
Deindustrialization and segregation increased. In 1967, social tensions
exploded into one of the most violent urban riots in American history.
The population exodus accelerated and whole neighborhoods began to
vanish. Outdated downtown buildings emptied. Within fifty years Detroit
lost more than half of its population.
Detroit, industrial capital of the XXth Century, played a fundamental
role shaping the modern world. The logic that created the city also
destroyed it. Nowadays, unlike anywhere else, the city’s ruins are not
isolated details in the urban environment. They have become a natural
component of the landscape. Detroit presents all archetypal buildings
of an American city in a state of mummification. Its splendid decaying
monuments are, no less than the Pyramids of Egypt, the Coliseum of
Rome, or the Acropolis in Athens, remnants of the passing of a great
Empire. (Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre)
This work is thus the result of a five-year collaboration started in 2005 by photographers Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre. For more images from Detroit and other projects, click here