Design & Construction

Home Depot Architecture in Detroit

“Home Depot Architecture: How one developer is turning farm storage into sleek apartments” in this week’s Fast Company is a quick look at an inspiring architectural project going up in Detroit. Since Detroit was devastated first by the almost total decline of American auto manufacturing and then by the lead in the city water scandal the city has been in physical decline for years. It needs new ideas to rebuild.

The Quonset hut is well known on farms, married student housing on college campuses, and military bases. It was used during WW II for quick housing. Today it is being used to build affordable, efficient housing. The architect has stepped them up many notches to create cathedral ceilings and simple light-filled interiors.

Quonset hut building in Detroit called the Caterpillar

Quonset hut apartment building in Detroit called the Caterpillar. The designer calls the style Home Depot architecture. 2021.

Developer Philip Kafka says “I call what we do Home Depot architecture. It’s figuring out how to use Home Depot materials and make good architecture.”

A smaller multi-use project in the same style won honorable mention in the 2017 Progressive Architecture Awards awarded by the American Institute of Architects.

The Caterpillar is nearly 200 feet long and 23 feet high and holds eight units ranging from 750 SF to 1350 SF.  As usual “affordable” is in the eye of the beholder. The rents are 30% lower per square foot but the average cost for apartments in Detroit is $1,119 for 796 SF. At $800 a month, it is still out of the range of many low-income households.

But the concept is one that could be adapted to a less expensive structure and since this and others have been accepted by municipalities there are precedents for zoning approval. The modern design might even be considered attractive in arts-oriented cities.

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