House Opera | Opera House


The House Opera | Opera House was originated by A(n) Office (Mitch McEwen and Marcelo Lopez Dinardi) when McEwen Studio bought the house and received funding by grants from the Knight Foundation, Graham Foundation, University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning. The first phase of design-subtraction-build was achieved with support from individual donors through a crowdsourcing campaign with funds matched by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.

The House Opera | Opera House project seeks, through architectural innovation, to propose a fertile alternative to the binary of blight and demolition. Implications of the project at the urban planning level include: how can residential vacancy be converted into an opportunity to support local cultural assets?


What are the zoning, planning and building code changes that make this possible? The project addresses these questions through a suite of spatial and material tactics to facilitate exploration of performance, community, and form. The experimental aspects architecturally include strategies of subtraction, programmatic collaboration, and expanded territories of adaptive re-use. The project seeks to explore what might occur when the borders of a house open up to annihilate the borders between art and community, makers and receivers of art, museums and home.


Existing conditions

Inspired by the flexibility of uses for houses in Detroit, this project stages an opera as a house, the house and its dramas of occupancy and vacancy, demolition, and re-purposing, as an opera. As indicated in the project title – House Opera | Opera House – the project pursues multiple relationships of physical structure to performance. Instigated by architectural designers working with a network of artists and curators, the House Opera | Opera House project situates built form in active relationship with choreography, costume, music, language, and drama. The doubling of the project’s title warns that opera will be explored and mined as an art-form as much as the house as a typology of building and program.


Plans notes


Aerial view with side opening


Study model




Geometrical elevations


Side facade montage

As a long-term project of architectural experimentation, House Opera | Opera House actively explores dynamics of public and cultural engagement at the scale of the single family home. The title alludes as well to the “opera publica” of Rome, literally public works, which defined the state of the art of physical infrastructure roughly two millennia ago. House Opera | Opera House aims to open and produce new possibilities of public engagement for architecture as a discipline and for houses as a built typology, investigating the means by which a formerly vacant house may serve as a node of cultural infrastructure. As historian Reinhold Martin argues, infrastructure (financial, political or social) is what is reproduced and repeated. The House Opera | Opera House produces –and is product of– communal infrastructures.


Interior demolition collage


Reinforced wall


Interior view

The House Opera opened temporarily to the public on July 24-25 with SigiFest, an arts, music and performance festival organized by AFROTOPIA, directed by Detroiter Ingrid Lafleur. According to the curator, the two-day festival aimed to heal and celebrate using spirit science based on the helical rise of the star Sigi Tolo or Sirius.


Sidewalk view


Tyvek wrapping


Backyard view closed stage


Ingrid Lafleur on open stage


Live performance


Monstah Black performance
Window from interior

HOUSE OPERA | OPERA HOUSE from House Opera on Vimeo.

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Selected by Eduardo Rega and Daniel Ruiz for urbanNext in November 2015, Detroit