Last year, a young Flint, Michigan, resident and his family found themselves without a home. Like many in the neighborhood, the Hamiltons had acquired their 1890s Tudor house with a subprime loan. Mark Hamilton, 21, had invested memories of growing up there, all of which were lost when the bank foreclosed on the house and marked it for demolition. He became one of 2,000 victims of the housing market crash in Flint alone.
Or was he? Here’s the thing: Mark Hamilton and his family don’t exist. Their identities were fabricated as part of the backstory for a pop-up art pavilion recently opened in downtown Flint that makes a compelling point through invented human narratives. That’s where you’ll find the only tangible evidence of Mark’s fictional house.
The structure re-creates the top half of the Hamiltons’ former gable-roofed residence, albeit shorn of its plaster and timber facade. Instead, the literal halfway home is gift-wrapped in silvery, reflective mylar that mirrors the desolate surrounding landscape. It’s suspended above the pavement, hanging clear over people’s heads, its undercarriage studded with portraits of real-life Flint residents and strangers from all over the world who can empathize with their pain.
The floating house, as William Villalobos, a member of the design collective Two Islands tells Co.Design, “lifts off the ground leaving a void behind it.”
The photos, which are framed in light boxes, were submitted by 90 backers of the project’s Kickstarter, which secured funding for the ceiling installation. They depict people, places, and things from parts of America and beyond, in regions (portions of Greece, Portugal) that have been disabled by the worldwide recession. The ceiling complements the pavilion’s abstract form, offering a gentle, human respite from the calculated geometries.
“The form came at a very visceral moment, a house in its most minimal form, with no decoration and barely any details, a symbol we are all familiar with,” says Villalobos. The London-based Two Islands developed and completed the pavilion with the Flint Public Art Project.
That void, he adds, is something the people of Flint are all too familiar with. “Everyone loses something,” and for hundreds of Flint families that’s been their home. As for Mark and the Hamiltons, the designer says that he and his colleagues, Cesc Massanas and Tomas Selva, deliberately opted for a fictional telling of post-2008 Flint so that it in a sense includes everyone, well beyond the depressed town. “We wanted to tell a story, both at a lyrical level and a physical one. So from our research on the city, its people, and their stories, we made our own,” he explains.
[Photos by Gavin Smith, Jacquie Gagne and Two Islands]