In the mid nineties we developed a series of parking solutions for the city of Amsterdam. One of our proposals was to see if we could use decommissioned churches; in the Atheistic Amsterdam many lost their initial purpose. We called it ‘Schuil Parkeren’, a reference to the phenomenon of the so-called Schuilkerk.
In the 17th Century the Netherlands celebrated freedom of religion, as long as you were Calvinist. Churches of other backgrounds had to go into hiding. The Schuilkerken were not recognizable from the outside; they mimicked housing or warehouse or barn or were placed inside a city block. (In those days Catholics for instance were not allowed to live next to each other; the neighbors might remove the walls that separated them and start a church…).
There was a clear parallel with Parking: in the nineties mobility was alright but cars were considered ‘evil’; they should be banned from the city. But we believed cars are a vital part of urban life. How could we create ‘parking space in hiding’?
‘Schuil Parkeren’ was an only a metaphor but once again reality proofed to be more radical. During our research we came across the Michigan Theater, a Rococo Theater in Detroit. It had undergone the most astonishing transformation: the elaborately decorated hall and lobby were converted into an indoor car park! The theater was built in 1926 by Rapp & Rapp and had a seating capacity of 4050. It was permanently closed in 1976.
The Michigan is featured in movies such as “8 Mile” and “The Island”. It also appears in music videos, such as “Lose Yourself,” by Eminem, and “My Little Birdie,” by Detroit rockers the Nice Device.
Cars, Detroit’s raison d’être and the reason for its demise (the density of down town is currently even lower than its suburbs!), now fill the once-bustling theater.
Only recently we discovered that the theater was built on the site of the small garage where Henry Ford built his first automobile! This Radical Makeover turned out to be some sort of Revenge of the Car!