Blog: Aaron Pilat

Aaron Pilat thinks Detroit can learn from Rome. An architect in Ann Arbor, Aaron's work has focused on reinventing historic structures for new uses. While living in Rome, he analyzed the re-use of historic architecture and urban space as a means of informing redevelopment in Detroit. Aaron will be writing about his ideas and observations.

Aaron Pilat - Post 2: What More Can Detroit Learn from Rome?

I’d like to offer two additional building projects in Rome that could serve as precedents for redevelopment in Detroit. Rome’s Peroni beer factory was booming in the early 1900’s and expanded its headquarters, which was located just outside the urban center of Rome. As the city expanded, the factory became the backbone for the surrounding working class neighborhood. In 1970, the Peroni family decided to abandon the buildings, opting for a larger, more modern facility further out in the suburbs.

After sitting empty for nearly twenty years, the Peroni factory was finally renovated. The facades were restored to their original character and one of the buildings is now home to Rome’s contemporary art museum. Underground and internal parking areas, banks, offices, restaurants and bars, a gym, department store and fresh food market accommodate both residents and visitors.

Variety and flexibility are key components to this redevelopment project, but much of its’ success is due to the surrounding lively and well-connected neighborhood.  

Detroit has been offered some of the financial help it needs and city leaders are currently deciding how to spend $47 million in government grants. Though the funds are primarily to be used for housing, a sustainable neighborhood needs much more. Should the funds be used to further develop already lively neighborhoods such as Corktown or Mexican town?  Or should they be evenly distributed across the territory of the city? 

The Centrale Montemartini, Rome’s first public electricity plant, had been dormant for several decades when it became the home for ancient sculptures. Pristine white artistic forms are juxtaposed with the purely functional industrial building and its machinery. 

Ruins from two different eras, each with different functions, have been removed from their original context, and combined to form a new use. In addition, the surrounding neighborhood is full of nightclubs and is the center of the city’s emerging alternative music and techno scene. These industrial buildings are viewed as an asset for traditional and contemporary cultural events. Could some of Detroit’s industrial buildings be viewed the same way?