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Steven J. Urban

Detroit Central Business District 1903 Paper Art Map

Detroit Central Business District 1903 Paper Art Map

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Urban Grid paper art.  


Steve J. Urban’s paper art work illustrates development patterns in Detroit as well as other cities in Michigan.  He uses Sanborn Property maps as a template, and hand cuts construction paper to illustrate the building patterns in black and white. Keeping the contrast simple, a variety of rich patterns emerge from the paper. The variety of building sizes, building shapes and setbacks make for a complex mosaic of urban settlements.  

In 1903, Detroit was the 13th largest city in U.S. and would be described as a second tier manufacturing center.  This was just at the dawn of the age of automobile manufacturing.  The groundwork for the radiating street pattern from the hub of Grand Circus Park was established after the Great Fire in 1805 modeled after the street pattern in Washington D.C. and was built in 1850. This is known as the Woodward Plan.  This radiating street system is the only remaining vestige from this era.  The buildings depicted in this map for the most part were simple wooden structures and replaced by multi story buildings constructed during the building boom between 1915 and 1928.  The old Wayne County Building is one of only a handful of buildings that remain. The area is densely developed from the shoreline of the Detroit River extending northward. Notice the network of alley ways within each block. 

About the Artist:

During his career as an architect, Steve J. Urban was intrigued by the patterns of the “built environment” within a city.  Meaning the footprints of buildings such as houses, commercial and industrial buildings as well as roads and highways.  The development of any city was shaped by many natural and man-made factors and features.  Unfortunately, the majority of the older areas featured in his work are disappearing without a record of what was there, leaving citizens without a sense of history.  Steve’s artwork is an attempt to document this urban history.


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