DDD Project, 2005. Images courtesy of Object Orange.
Courtyard blot. In context, with blots shown in pink; and below, the evolution of the blot and its reorientation over time. Illustrations by Interboro Partners.
I didn’t want to romanticize it...but the city had a depth of character, a real substance and integrity. And while you want to do away with the problems, you don’t want to lose that quality.
— Andrew Zago
The third stage of ruin reclamation is formal, sanctioned and semi-institutional. It incorporates the first two stages — highlighting and appropriating — but goes further to transform abandoned buildings and vacant lots into vibrant new sites. Advocating conservation rather than demolition, transformation preserves traces of the past while turning attention to the future.
Architects may be active agents in facilitating such incremental progress, using the ruin as a frame for creative reclamation. Often conceived in phases, transformation necessitates both immediate and long-term actions. And since limited financial resources often prohibit realization of elaborate visions, the resultant strategy must balance pragmatism and desire.
Opened in 2006, the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD), designed by the architect Andrew Zago, is one such project. It highlights and appropriates an urban ruin, but also transforms it into a vibrant cultural center. Occupying a former car dealership abandoned in the 1970s, at a time of mass white flight, the 22,000-square-foot museum evokes Detroit's past as a center of automotive production. Amid the slow revival of a derelict downtown, architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff called MOCAD “an act of guerilla architecture, one that accepts decay as fact rather than attempts to create a false vision of urban density.” 
Zago, a Detroit native, viewed the project as a chance to contribute to downtown renewal, but in a way that would draw inspiration from its current state.  Taking cues from “squatter’s houses, performance spaces, local bars and grass-roots art projects,” Zago took advantage of the transgressive potential of the ruin.  He employed the vernacular of urban blight as an operative strategy, celebrating the city’s underbelly.
Zago had initially designed a more significant intervention. But the museum’s limited financial resources and its desire to open immediately necessitated scaling back to a quick-and-dirty Phase 1 that involved such pragmatic maneuvers as installing lighting, plumbing and a parking lot.  Zago’s adaptation celebrates the ruin's raw aesthetic: walls showcase layers of peeling paint; a patchwork of floor surfaces suggests a long history of interior alterations.
Such scars not only contribute to the visual appeal of the building but also tell a story of endurance, adaptability and survival. In turn, the museum has inspired different forms of ad hoc engagement from exhibiting artists, where the architecture itself serves as a site for creative reclamation.  As Ouroussoff explained, “[i]t takes us back to a time when making art and architecture could be an act of dissent.” 
For Phase 2, Zago has proposed a more extensive renovation, introducing a high degree of refinement: sculptural skylights, storefront windows, mechanical upgrades, a sculpture garden, a cafe with outdoor seating and a bookstore. Although these additional alterations would maintain the allure of the industrial ruin, they are guided more by aesthetic than operative urgency. But the critical need to stake a claim on Detroit’s ruins, paired with economic recession, suggests that these architectural refinements would be unnecessary, if not inappropriate. The urgency of MOCAD is conveyed by its comparative roughness.
MOCAD (Phase 1). Woodward Avenue facade with mural by graffiti artist Barry McGee. Photo courtesy of Zago Architecture.
MOCAD (Phase 2, unbuilt), rendering. View along Woodward Avenue. Images by Zago Architecture.
Reclamation: A “Second Coming”?
Perhaps the prime problem for the immediate future is the indicating of ‘no-present-use’ for a place, but nevertheless signaling that the city centre is not dead, only resting; that it is becoming available, a place for the nature of change to make itself manifest, a place of change for the better in a climate of hope.
— Alison Smithson <
Focusing on ruins is not only an act of initial reclamation; it is also an operative strategy in the subsequent stages of architectural appropriation and transformation. In recent years Detroit's problems have received extensive public attention. The enduring solution to the city's protracted decline might well be the kind of relatively loose and informal practices I've described above. Furthermore, each stage — Highlight, Appropriate, and Transform — lays the groundwork for a subsequent mode of renewal: raw urbanism.
Raw urbanism is a form of urban recuperation that encourages sequences of individual operations. It posits a larger infrastructural framework that accepts the city as a unified yet heterogeneous fabric. In this view, abandoned lots are no longer seen as isolated and singular but rather as part of a greater whole — as part of an urban fabric composed of surface interruptions, whose discontinuities must be understood as integral ecologies and whose potential is essential to the survival of the whole.
Raw urbanism implicates architecture as an active agent in the recuperation of Detroit, rejecting grand gestures that offer false hope for salvation. Such grand gestures — casinos, ballparks, and corporate headquarters — have not only failed to resuscitate the city; they stand out as monuments to disappointment. What the city needs is hope — hope that a solution to current crises will emerge and that it will transcend the myth of salvation.
Detroit needs strategies that aim not merely to preserve or suspend the city but also to launch it into an uncertain future where it can “make itself manifest.”  Rather than making promises, raw urbanism constructs networks of possibility, where the “city full of holes” is understood as a city of untapped potential. As the essayist Rebecca Solnit has explained, “Detroit will never be built as it was.” Rather, “it will be the first of many cities forced to become altogether something else.” 
MOCAD (Phase 2), model.