Blog: Michael Doyle

Michael Doyle is a native Detroiter who grew up in Royal Oak and studied industrial
design at the Center for Creative Studies. He wanted to work for Lucasfilms upon
graduation, but fell in love with real world design while in college.

From a very young age, he has had a short attention span, disdain for the status quo, and an insatiable drive to create. This combination has led him to a 12 year career as an exhibit designer (similar to architecture, but at a blinding pace) and an
equal amount of time involved in projects ranging from performance art, to DJ'ing and producing music events, to curating art exhibits and lecturing about design theory around the country.  Michael was also editor of his high school newspaper, which evolved into founding his current group culture blog Burnlab.net, and is a regular contributor to leading design sites Core77.com, Archinect.com and Cpluv.com.

Michael co-found the DJ collectives Dorkwave and Dethlab, and joined the experience design agency o2 Creative Solutions. He is also a designer for Ann Arbor/New York based indie electronic label Ghostly International, where he has designed album art for artists such as Matthew Dear and Solvent.

Doyle is engaged to fellow designer and creative partner Bethany Shorb. Among the couple's highlights of the past year was taking the grandson of Charles and
Ray Eames on a guided tour of Detroit's most unusual spots. They live in Ferndale with their black cat Einstein and hound dog Socrates.

Michael will be writing about how even Detroit's most ravaged features can inspire those who know how to look.

JOIN THE CONVERSATION WITH YOUR COMMENTS!

Or check out any of the projects, people, groups and companies Michael's associated with:

Burnlab                 Core77                 o2 Creative Solutions

Archinect               Cpluv                    Ghostly International

Dorkwave             Dethlab                 Bethany Shorb

Michael Doyle - Most Recent Posts:

Post No. 5

 
For my fifth and final post here, I want to address a concept which has not been discussed nearly as much as it should: a borough system for Metropolitan Detroit. What does that mean exactly? Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties would be incorporated into one mega-city of five million residents with each former county being a borough - much like New York did in 1898 and Toronto did as recently as 1954. This is not a new concept, but it has never been seriously considered, primarily because of the social-economical-political-racial rift between the more economically powerful suburbs and the core City of Detroit. This rift was not created by, but is perpetuated to this day by small-minded folk jockeying for power in both places.

It's a given that neither side would want to share political power with the other.  The mental fortresses built of fear are too strong. But imagine if you will, a Detroit with the diversity and economic power of the entire region - shared services, shared infrastructure and shared tax base. The transition may be more difficult than the joining of East and West Germany, but I truly think it would be in the best interest of all parties and all the residents of the region in the long run.  

In theory, the former geographic City of of Detroit would share tax revenue from the entire the region, while the outer suburbs would be absorbed into a newly defined Detroit City with a revived core. The economic advantages seem to be clearly in the former Detroit's favor, but the social and political power would shift to the outer boroughs (due to population figures)... at first. Think twenty, fifty years in the future, after the most stubborn politicians have long since retired.  Imagine a unified Detroit that extends as north as the neighborhood of Ortonville and as far west as Canton Village. Imagine five million people sharing the responsibility for 3,913 square miles, rather than their individual enclaves. Before you say this sound like a communist plot, this is exactly how many real, vibrant cities in the North America work.

As one city, many of the social divides that tear us apart would be rendered irrelevant. A singular metro Detroit municipality will not solve the social and economic problems we face, but it would remove some of the barriers which help them thrive. There would still be richer and poorer neighborhoods, but posturing would be pointless. The point is: we'd all be in it together. Royal Oak, Ferndale, Corkrtown and Midtown would all be neighborhoods of Detroit, much like Greenwich Village, Williamsburg, Astoria and Midtown are neighborhoods of New York. We wouldn't lose the character of any area, but we would lose some of the mental boundaries which keep us apart. A real metropolitan mass transit system could be a reality for the first time, without municipalities blocking bus service for thinly veiled racist motives.

A true metropolitan City of Detroit would take time - probably a generation or two to really work, but it would be worth it. Re-drawing city lines won't solve the "us vs. them" mentality, but it would be a huge step in the right direction. It would also return Detroit to it's status an economic and cultural powerhouse. In the eyes of the world, Detroit could be one of the greatest cities in the U.S. once again. (In my sick version of justice, there would some satisfaction in seeing all who fled to the farthest reaches of the area being forced to take responsibility for the city that provided their existence, as well as forcing those within the city to acknowledge the importance of the surrounding communities.)

This macro outlook addresses some issues, but a micro outlook is needed as well.  What makes today's Detroit strong and relevant is not big industry, but its entrepreneurs and DIY'ers. In this hypothetical mega-city of the future, we must more than ever foster and promote the diversity and individuality that makes our place unique.

Andy Malone is a life-long Detroit resident, artist, architect, community leader and DIY'er.  I've been fortunate to be a close friend and professional colleague with Andy for some twelve years, to serve on the CAID board of directors and co-curate The Other Auto Show with him. On the topic of Detroit entrepreneurship, Andy says, "Detroit necessitates an entrepreneurial spirit that creative people thrive on. Almost every Detroiter I know has done (or valiantly attempted) extraordinary things. It's not unusual to run into someone who started their own magazine, painted a mural, opened a restaurant, started a poetry festival, or shot a feature length movie (sometimes simultaneously.)  In other cities, the creative resources are jealously protected by the established community.  Detroit is about sharing. We have no choice." 

He continues, "Apathy is my least favorite aspect of Detroit. From political corruption to litter on the streets, apathy is the root of everything that's wrong with the city. There are so many neighborhoods that are at a tipping point right now. As trite as it sounds, the smallest improvement could have a lasting impact. The best way to improve Detroit is also the most basic: Create a close-knit network of positive nodes throughout. Slow's and CAID are good examples of businesses that moved into neglected neighborhoods and challenged people's perception of Detroit."

From a network of positive individual actions to a metro-area wide sense of shared responsibility and pride, the combination of creativity, passion and midwestern hard work are the keys to a better metropolitan Detroit for everyone.  If we can open our minds and remove fear and apathy from the equation, there is no limit to what we can do and what we can become.

Post No. 4

A conversation with Jamie Latendresse

Of all the interviews I conducted last week in preparation for these Metromode columns, the one that really stood out unfortunately comes from someone who is leaving Detroit... but for the best reason: love.

Jamie Latendress is a graphic designer, founder of the
Pr1mary Space Gallery and the former Assistant Director of C-Pop. His responses were so good, I'm going to cop out of my writing duties today and just post the whole interview. Enjoy.

Michael Doyle: Why do you chose to live and work in Detroit?

Jamie Latendress: I was born here and Detroit will always be home. I have lived and will live in other cities but Detroit will always possess an inimitable character not found in any other urban setting. Everything from its sometimes rusty, but always beating, industrial heart, to its trend-fighting music and arts scene. As a graphic artist, I find these attributes are a superb source of inspiration, great clientele, and cultural sustenance.

MD: What are your favorite things about Detroit?

JL: I find a lot of people revere those who make their home in Detroit, for their courage, their stamina, for their intrepid spirit. I find that I, indeed many Detroiters, take great pride in this. While we Detroiters take our share of criticism and misplaced dogging, we always come out on the positive side. We have to, after all — to live here is to find the positive. I think it would be poor character not to defend the city's many redeeming qualities.

That reverence is fed by the visibly rough edges of an urban scene that from the outside appears somewhat destitute but on the inside embodies great pockets of unique and exciting venues. From Corktown to Midtown, great businesses and events thrive and try to survive here. I always marvel at the choices we have and have had; DIA, Oslo, MOCAD, DEMF, Slow's, Motor, Detroit Contemporary/CAID, CPOP, Roma Cafe, Jazz Fest, Panacea. Like any city great things come and go but the surprises around each corner always excite me.

MD: What are your least favorite things about Detroit?

JL: The lagging intellects behind its core industries and politics. Detroit is sometimes very slow to change, or more specifically, to progress. Indeed we Detroiters can be stubborn in our acceptance of new things and at times that has spelled the end for a lot of really great upstarts (see the couple defunct examples in the list above) in our business community.

MD: What are the special places, businesses or experiences you find unique to Detroit?

JL: There are a number of business that have held my favor over the years and to their credit held their own as well. The Cass Cafe is a primary example. I've never seen its match in any other market — a cafe that serves delightful but never overblown food, with a competent bar, until the wee hours, showing fresh artwork, in a completely unpretentious atmosphere. New York and San Francisco have yet to show me their Cass Cafes, if they exist.

Pure Detroit is another example, putting a creative and artistic twist on merchandise for tourists and natives alike, while simultaneously exalting the beating heart that makes our city so unique. Some other examples are Eastern Market, Dally in the Alley, and Belle Isle.

MD: If you recently moved to, are planning to leave, or are planning to stay in Detroit, why?

JL: I have moved to and from Detroit once in the past, and will do so again in the near future. In both cases I proudly say it is for personal relationships that I did and do so. I've watched many friends and colleagues leave our city for supposed fairer shores. Were it not for certain personal reasons (ahh...l'amour) I would surely make Detroit my home for years to come. There are amazing people and ideas at work here and I find them as exciting as any I've seen elsewhere. I look forward to tracking their progress from wherever my travels should take me.

MD: In what ways does the city influence your creative output?

JL: Like any artist in Detroit I find favor in the city's industrial facade, it's mid-western work ethic, and yes, at times its unfortunate decay. A friend of mine and I often talk about the effects a dying Rome would have had on artists and writers, and how that compares to Detroit's impact. While I definitely think Detroit is engaged in more of a Renaissance than a death rattle, its romantic and sometimes broken heart is so dramatic to me. The obstacles we in Detroit face, to keep up, to shine through the rust, force us to think differently and to seek alternatives to traditional inspiration. That's a powerful combination of influences.

MD: What would you suggest/like to see to make Detroit a better place?

JL: Detroit has long suffered from a variety of social and economic barriers. As we run to catch up to other municipalities across the country it's tempting to jump in too quickly with our modernization. However, the layouts and infrastructures of these great cities were built over long periods of time, with many wrong turns and much trial. I would more like to see a slow examination of how other successful cities were built, and very careful consideration and implementation in the refurbishment of dilapidated sections of Detroit. Lofts and new urban living areas are great, if they provide wholly for new residents and make sense for the long-term life of the city.


Post No. 3

I grew up in Detroit, spent five years living and working on both coasts and overseas, and chose to return. Everyone has stories about why they move here, stay here, or leave here. Most people who grew up here have talked (usually at length) of leaving some day. Many of our finest do move on, but many of those come back eventually. I'm curious about all of these stories, but the main question I pose for this piece is "why choose Detroit?"

In 2004 Detroit seemed to be in a full-swing revival. When I stepped off the plane that spring, there was more enthusiasm in this city than I had felt from 1972-1998 combined. We had a couple of very exciting years. More recently however, it seems as if the creative class is fleeing in mass and by any means possible. Certainly not everyone though. Some of our very best are in it for the long haul. I spoke with a few of them about why they choose to live and work in Detroit and how the city motivates them.

Jaron Rothkop, an industrial designer and innovation development consultant who has worked closely with the MIT Media Lab on a variety of advanced technologies and concept cars, is a Texas native who moved here to attend CCS. Jaron ran Lear's design studio in Munich for several years, but has pretty much been a Detroiter since the late 1980s - not just a Detroiter, but a very active member of the art scene, the business world and the community as a whole. He likesthe fact that, "At the base level, people in Detroit understand how things are made, that they are designed, fabricated, and put together by other people. The result is a very different culture than in places where the economy is based on moving money around, futurism, or crafting images. Here people understand product in their bones. I can have absolutely anything fabricated in this city. Not only can I find pressed machine bearings at 2AM, I can shop around for the best price. [There are] more resources than visions of how they can be used."

Nicola Kuperus, photographer, co-fonder of the band ADULT. and the record label Ersatz Audio is another CCS graduate who has put down roots here. Taking a brief break from renovating a historic home she owns with husband and creative partner Adam Miller, she says "It's not too big. It's not too small. There's room to breath the polluted air here. It's affordable and most of the people are real - it's not manicured like the suburbs." She dislikes the crime, the trash and the taxes, but enjoys the unique places, such as "Avalon Bakery, Eastern Market, Honey Bee Market, Belle Isle, [their] backyard, MOCAD, walking to the post office, the Fisher Building, Slow's and Northern Lights Lounge."

Kuperus and Miller have lived in the city ever since moving here from more remote parts of Michigan and Indiana respectively, and don't venture into the 'burbs often. When asked about how Detroit might be a better city to live in, Nicola responds, "It would be great to have a few more conveniences, like a Trader Joe's or Whole Foods. I think the city should have an official city exchange program with a country like the Neatherlands. We need alot more forward thinking here - building lofts, casinos and sports arenas just doesn't cut it."

Christian Unverzagt is co-founder of the multi-disciplinary design/ build firm M1/DTW,who have their studio in the Russell Industrial Center. Christian received his architecture degree at the University of Michigan, studied at the California Institute of the Arts and the Bartlett School of Architecture in London, and earned his masters from SCI-Arc in Los Angeles. Among their many print, building and installation projects, M1/DTW is perhaps best known for the design of Salon 6 in Royal Oak and Birmingham. Unverzagt says of Detroit, "The city (and the region) carry with it an amazing legacy. The efforts of many pioneering people literally transformed the world (for better or for worse.) The artifacts from those eras (20s, 50s, 70s, 90s) all co- exist and instill a sense of amazement and potential." When asked about how Detroit inspires his creative output, Christian says, "The underlying potential combined with an "off-the-radar" sense of expectation."

Post No. 2

 Do it yourself, because:

a) Nobody is going to do it for you.
b) Nobody else will take the risk.
c) Nobody can do it better.
d) All of the above.

If you answered d, you may be from Detroit.

As much as coney islands, Tiger baseball and abandoned factories, the DIY attitude is part of the fabric of the city. Detroit doesn't follow trends and never has. We don't wait to see if New York or Los Angeles approve something first. We export innovation. We take risks that may not be financially viable, and we're not terribly concerned with what mainstream America thinks. We do what we believe in for all of the reasons listed above, and if our endeavors lead to traditional definitions of "success", then great. But the real reasons for doing anything are creative and spiritual satisfaction.

DIY has become a buzz term recently. There's a backlash against increasingly large and faceless global conglomerates. (Look to Philip Morris changing their name to Altira and Clear Channel naming their live music arm Live Nation in an attempt to distance themselves from negative connotations associated with the corporate brands.) Independent businesses and hand-crafted items are the new luxury not because they are expensive (which they're generally not,) but because they are personal. If I have the choice between buying a garment form an independent designer or from Macy's at the same price point, it's a no-brainer. There's passion and a story behind every independently created item you buy, whether it's a shirt, a beer, music, a piece of furniture or an evening at the theater. You're not just buying a product, you're buying into someone's dream.

Detroit has been DIY for a long time out of a survival necessity more than any spiritual or creative motivations. As the most modern city in the world, we were among the first to enjoy the success of the industrial age, the pain of it's decline, and the first deal constructively with the fallout. Those who don't do it for themselves either fail or are lulled into complacency - which is a temporary stop on the road to failure in an environment like this. The Midwest is known for it's work ethic, but hard work isn't enough anymore. We need to work smarter, not harder. We need to adapt quickly, be creative and lead - as we've always done.

The world is watching how Detroit will lead itself out of its current state. Casinos and stadiums certainly won't do it. A handful of motivated artists, record labels, urban farmers and small businesses won't do it, but the culmination of hundreds of thousands of people doing it for themselves will.

Post No. 1


I've always been fascinated by the aesthetics of industry. I don't know if it's because I grew up in Detroit or part of why I returned. It permeates my work, and there are few smells sweeter than a welding shop or the combination of oil, rubber and leather in an old automotive garage. As far as industrial indulgence, nothing beats exploring an old factory - and there is no better place for that than Detroit.

My fiance and I have been avid urban explorers for many years. The first time exploring together, we climbed to the penthouse of the Broderick Tower and the roof of the Michigan Central Station in the same night - during a freak April snow storm no less. Since then we've tried to make each adventure unique. We once hosted an Alice in Wonderland themed tea party on the roof of Fisher Body Plant 21, complete with hot Earl Gray, fine china, a lace tablecloth and costumes. (Yes, there was top hat, a blue dress and a full body rabbit suit involved.) On another occasion we organized a croquet social at the Packard plant on East Grand Blvd. Being that the factory was built in 1907, we dressed in proper Edwardian attire of course.

The Packard is our favorite place to explore. Designed by Albert Kahn and totaling nearly four million square feet, the facility is one of the grandest modern ruins in the world. Aside from its
automotive history, it's a landmark in Detroit music history. Many of the important techno parties happened there in the early 1990s and it still resonates with the energy of that time if you imagine.

This past summer we brought the techno/industrial band MOTOR from Europe to perform at the Contemporary Art Institute of Detroit. They wanted to see some of the unique parts of Detroit, and it so happened that URB Magazine asked us to contribute photos and words for a story
about urban exploring the week before. Perfect! We didn't have to think twice about the location.

We picked the guys up the morning after the show, stopped for breakfast at the diner downstairs from the Leland Hotel and headed over to the Packard. We wandered around for two hours, shot photos, and left it as we found it - as we always do. Abandoned buildings are like nature reserves... just with a lot of concrete and steel, and the random gaping hole in the floor. It was a great experience to show one of techno's most exiting new acts the very same place I saw Richie Hawtin and Derek May perform with generators fifteen years earlier. It takes experiencing places like the Packard to begin to understand what motivates artists in Detroit. It's either overwhelming depressing or inspiring. Choosing the second opens up a world of
imagination.
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