Friday, June 24, 2011

The City Hall of Our Dreams

Given Flint's economic situation, major renovations of city-owned buildings for purely aesthetic reasons are about as likely as the Lions winning the Super Bowl. Five times in a row. But it's nice to pretend that there might come a time when Flint can upgrade its architectural image, similar to the way the Flint branch of the American Institute of Architects held a design contest for the Genesee Towers of our dreams. Why don't we start with the
Bauhaus style City Hall (above).

The old City Hall (above) seemed to fit better with Flint's boom-town mentality at the time. It's got a bombastic, aspirational look to it that indicates the city was going places. It's a building that says "Hey, we're pretty badass!"

Architectural Record
recently featured a renovation job in Minneapolis that shows what could be done to update Flint's current city government complex. Julie Snow Architects was hired to transform the headquarters of KNOCK, a branding, advertising and design firm. The old building (above) looks a lot like a smaller version of Flint's City Hall.
"In its former incarnation, KNOCK’s headquarters, located in a downtrodden precinct of Minneapolis, was a building remarkable only for being unremarkable. Millions of its cousins — aging, uninspired commercial boxes — dot the country’s secondary roads from coast to coast," writes Beth Broome. "Down-on-their-luck structures, they mostly go unnoticed and there is no love lost when they are felled."
Sound familiar?

Here's the renovated version. It looks like a sleek little factory, but with the humanizing effect of wood. Flint used to be a lumber town before turning to carriages and cars, so this aesthetic would have some obvious historical references, unlike the current City Hall. Here's the problem, the KNOCK headquarters was only 9,750 sq. ft., much smaller than Flint's collection of government buildings. The renovation cost $1.3 million...way out of Flint's price range. But it's nice to dream.


  1. You know what would be awesome? Combine the two projects. Renovate the Genesee Towers and move the city government in, "anchor tenant" you know?

    Then we could tear down that hideous thing down the road!

  2. It's a shame to tear down good bones, but does anyone know of an economically viable use for the Tower, or a source of funding other than possibly their immediate neighbor?


Thanks for commenting. I moderate comments, so it may take a while for your comment to appear. You might enjoy my book about Flint called "Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City," a Michigan Notable Book for 2014 and a finalist for the 33rd Annual Northern California Book Award for Creative NonFiction. Filmmaker Michael Moore described Teardown as "a brilliant chronicle of the Mad Maxization of a once-great American city." More information about Teardown is available at