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The Ruins of Detroit

Bagley-Clifford Office of the National Bank of Detroit - Photograph by Yves Marchand and Romain Mefre.

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 Outdated downtown buildings emptied.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

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