Detroit Watercraft

The cost for Southeast Michigan’s regional water and sewage infrastructure,
as it cuts through and moves under various boundaries of governance and property,
is not paid for by any form of taxes, municipal budget, or ongoing infrastructure
fund. The revenue model of a private company with individual customer
accounts (for Detroit) and wholesale accounts (for suburban counties) was baked
into this infrastructure from the height of its suburban expansion.  The pricing runs
counter to the reality that sewage processing becomes inseparable from drainage for
much of the network. In the past five years, this private user model of financing and
its failure to meet system costs has become the justification for shutting off water to
tens of thousands of Detroit residents—an operation that many consider a twentyfirst-
century version of slum clearance.

These water shutoff procedures and their enabling algorithms of pricing and
payment generate an instance of the contemporary urban divide. This divide
is no longer one of borders. The suburb/inner city distinction continues to
generate socioeconomic effects, but its effects do not coalesce in the same mid-twentieth-
century pattern of center and periphery. In Detroit we see the emergence of
infrastructure and resource management to accompany this new divide, a new spatial
order within the city. I call this new infrastructure logic watercraft, building off of
Keller Easterling’s notion of extrastatecraft. Like extrastatecraft, watercraft is beyond
the governance of statecraft; it is the management of privatizing and re-spatializing resources.

It is fluid, yet it is capable of evicting residents, criminalizing households,
and rendering faucets, fixtures, and toilets useless—all from the manipulation of a

This research began in 2013 with Stream of Consciousness, a graduate architecture studio at University of Michigan that explored alternatives to conventional water infrastructure in the North End neighborhood of Detroit.  A portion of the studio was devoted to modeling and drawing fluid circulation and algorithmic drawing to schematize filtration and fluid processes.  Each student developed a proposal for a 10,000 sq ft cultural venue that is situated within a neighborhood-scale ‘para-infrastructure’ proposal.

This evolved into a set of maps and articles, a portion of which have been published in Perspecta 50 (MIT Press).

Student John Sampson, Prof. V. Mitch McEwen, University of Michigan

Student John Sampson, Prof. V. Mitch McEwen, University of Michigan

Ye Fu 3

Student Ye Fu, Prof. V. Mitch McEwen, University of Michigan







Jaime Rivera

Student Jaime Rivera, Prof. V. Mitch McEwen, University of Michigan
















Online Resources


Great Lakes Information Network : external link:

Combined Sewer Overflow in the Great Lakes: external link:

Combined Sewer Overflow diagram: external link:


Detroit Future City planning framework: external link:

Detroit’s Fractured Water Cycles: external link:

Detroit Wastewater Treatment: external link:

Detroit Water + Sewerage Factsheet: external link:

Detroit Thermal, Underground steam tunnel network: external link:

Detroit property data (North End): external link:

Detroit Planning Dep’t: external link:

Galapagos Art Space moves to Detroit The centerpiece of the new Galapagos will be a 10,000-square-foot lake external link: external link:

North End

North End, NYT map: external link:{%221%22%3A%22RI%3A9%22}&_r=0

North End article, NYT: external link:{%221%22%3A%22RI%3A9%22}

Oakland Ave Steam House – external link:

Aquaculture prototype, shrimp farm – external link:

Tactics & Methods

Urban Recipes (Seville, Spain): external link:

Materials technology (Jason Vollen): external link:

Arts/Science Methods: external link:

Bio/Nano/Programmable Matter: external link:

Synthetic Aesthetics: external link:

Buckminster Fuller Challenge Finalists – external link:

The “Carioca Way” of City Making (Rio, Brazil) – external link:

Condominial sewerage model (Brazil) – external link:


Bike-powered water filtration: external link:

PITCHAfrica (Kenya): external link:!where-we-work/

EPA Urban Waters program: external link:

EPA National Student Design Competition: external link:

Water quantity basics: external link:

Typical U.S. Residential Waste-water flows/quantities: external link:

DWSD water supply map: external link:

DWSD fact sheet: external link:

Potable water: filtration and purification: external link:

Water Shut-Offs

UN Shocked by Detroit: external link:

Theory & Models

Naomi Klein and SCAPE at GSAPP – external link:

Lars Marcussen on Deleuze – external link:

Theoretical text on order, Foucault’s preface to The Order of Things external link: