The installation, Mark’s house, was selected from more than 400 entries as the winning design for the Flat Lot project, a competition to design and create a temporary structure to support public programs on a downtown car park in Flint.
Flint rose to prominence as the birthplace of General Motors, but was badly affected by the automotive company’s deindustrialisation process in the latter part of the 20th century. The town became known for its high crime rate and, in 2012, it was the site of 2,774 violent crimes: the second highest total in Michigan behind the larger city of Detroit. In this context, Mark’s house is intended as a revitalisation of the area.
“It was a very unexplored terrain for anyone in architecture,” says William Villalobos, who founded Two Islands together with Cesc Massanas and Tomas Selva. “People questioned why we were investing in something that is in the realms of art and architectural design when it’s basically a bankrupt town.”
The house is entirely clad in reflective Mylar polyester film and sits on similarly-reflective central pedestal. This structure results in a seeming gap between the footprint of the building and the building itself, creating the impression that the building is floating.
“It’s not a statement on technicalities or how to make something look like it’s levitating. It’s a physical representation of a conceptual idea,” says Villalobos. "It represents the gap that everyone experiences in their lives when they lose somebody or something.”
The house is simplified, entirely free from decoration or functional features such as doors and windows, “It’s a minimalist way of looking at a form that everyone can identify with; shelter means so much to us,” says Villalobos. “It’s a piece of architectural design that literally reflects its own context.”
That context is grounded in Flint’s difficult future and revolves around a story written by Two Islands about a fictitious character called Mark Hamilton who lost his house.
“The design came first, and the story came later, but they go hand in hand,” says Villalobos. “Eventually you try to build your own house in order to build your own experiences, and memories. And that’s what Mark is about; Mark grew up here in a house and then he eventually builds his own place on this street. He gets himself a house and then he loses it all. Once he loses it all, he feels a huge void.”
A ceiling installation for the project was sponsored through a Kickstarter campaign, while the remainder was funded by AIA-Flint and Flint Public Art Project. Crowd-sourcing and the city of Flint's backing ties into the social dimension of the installation. At its root, Mark’s House is a regeneration project. As well as a metaphor for what the city has lost in the economic climate, the project aims to inspire revitalisation in the area.
“It’s privately sponsored by people who believe that these kind of projects help on a different level, beyond economically, on a more cultural level, raising spirits, and trying to grab a different type of attention,” says Villalobos.
“This town is pure America, everyone loves their driving and huge trucks, and everyone has huge pride in the auto industry which left the town years ago and left it broke. Its still in their memories, so what this is trying to do is to move on from that emptiness. It’s something that will lift the spirits and say: we are a town about innovation; we are about future.”