The House that Makes Sense and the Arts of Citizenship

I was asked by Beth Diamond, Professor of Landscape Architecture and recipient of an Arts of Citizenship Grant, to design a new community arts center for the Heidelberg Project, a grassroots art organization in Detroit. This arts center was conceived by the Heidelberg Project and given the name The House that Makes Sense for the hundreds of thousands of pennies received from children around the country. For the past year or so Beth and I have worked in constant collaboration to give the Heidelberg Project a vision that they can use to apply for funding to various donors and foundations so that they can create this building that they have been talking about for almost a decade.


From the beginning, Beth had me enraptured in the history and aesthetics of Tyree Guyton, the artist and founder of the Heidelberg Project. I researched, read, and went to the project, even created art in the manner of Tyree to become fully familiar with what I going to become a part of. This was an important first step as I was sucked into Tyree’s story of hope and was instantly empowered to help him in his pursuit of change.

Working with Beth on this project gave me a huge opportunity to expand and explore my creative potential as well as my passion for small-scale community-based design. Through this whole process, I was empowered by Beth to push beyond the boundaries of the typical into something that fit the Heidelberg Project. It also went beyond the typical student project to produce something not just highly theoretical but something usable and buildable. Believe me, there’s no shortage of theoretical thinking behind the design but the theory is transcended into the form of practicality. This one project, allowed me to find my niche in the design world, merging art, architecture, and landscape architecture where the boundaries between the three are blurred and they all become something greater in the end.

Final Results

What I was able to produce over the past year was incredible from the perspective of the Heidelberg Project. I took the aesthetics of Tyree and merged structure and space to create a building and landscape unique to Heidelberg. In the end, I generated detailed floor and site plans and sections, interpretive paintings, numerous detailed sketches, and an extremely detailed architectural model. The construction of the detailed model (models are usually very expensive undertakings) allowed Heidelberg the chance to grasp the final design and in turn explain it to potential donors. The design, especially the model, has been shown to numerous foundations, has been featured in Crain’s Detroit business publication, and shown in gallery exhibits at Taubman College of Architecture and Planning, the African American History Museum in Detroit, and the Environmental Design Research Association Annual Conference in Chicago.

Next Steps

The project has not stopped there; the next steps are being taken as we speak. The vision produced and given to the Heidelberg Project allowed them to apply for numerous grants including the $50,000 LINC pre-development grant they were awarded this past winter. This money is going towards taking the vision and producing a more concrete and realistic plan that can then be built. I was asked to continue the design, working with Heidelberg Project’s Site Development Committee to rework the plan. Everyday, the vision made possible by the Arts of Citizenship, is closer and closer to a built reality for the Heidelberg Project.

Nick Lavelle

Nick Lavelle is a 2012 Masters of Landscape Architecture Candidate at the School of Natural Resources and Environment, University of Michigan.

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