Re:Tool-Kit for Detroit

A Study of Making.

Insights about the skills and services available in the city

Re-Tool-Kit for Detroit set out to assess what was being made in Detroit in the summer of 2012.

The project began with the question, “What can get made in Detroit?” Initially we compiled a database of over 400 manufacturing and fabrication businesses in the City of Detroit. The objective of the research was to gather insights about the skills and services available in the city by conducting interviews with people who make things. We conducted 47 interviews with Detroit area fabricators.

Re-Tool-Kit for Detroit is a collection of information gathered, organized, and designed to facilitate collaborations with Detroit area fabricators. The tool-kit targets an audience that is either partially or wholly unfamiliar with Detroit and the state of fabrication. It is intended to provide readers with the tools and data needed to both engage the fabrication community and incorporate the possibilities of various production techniques into design aspirations. By providing the understanding and tools needed to connect with the human capacity and fabrication know-how that already exists in Detroit, the tool-kit aspires to produce collaborations between a new generation of designers and existing fabrication sectors of Detroit for mutual benefit.

Re-Tool-Kit for Detroit was intended to perform like a guidebook or window into the world of Detroit’s fabrication capacity and potential. The guidebook format allows the research to be made available to the public without being comprehensive. It is intended to provide navigational data, useful reference information, and a select set of details for each fabrication shop included. It is designed to peak interest and engage, not exhaustively cover what can be made in Detroit. Information is presented graphically relying heavily on unique icons developed specifically for this project and provides an entertaining, non-verbal method of organizing and visualizing a range of information and can be added to and adapted over time.


The scope of this project was purposefully inclusive.

Research for the project started with the creation of a database of four hundred shops collected via internet directories, driving around the city looking for fabrication shops and asking for recommendations from local fabricators and people who make things and get things made. This database was added to over the course of the project as interviewees continued to recommend other shops.

We included old-school shops that do not use digital tools, to hi-tech service-based fabricators working for military and medical clients, craftsmen fabricators, start-up artisanal fabricators, members of collective maker spaces where fabrication tools and resources are shared among multiple members and artists who are skilled at techniques that might have traditionally be classified as fabrication—such as metal work, machining and assemblies.

Interviews consisted of thirty-five questions and took approximately one hour. Questions asked included 1) what is made, 2) what tools and skills are required, 3) how does the business work – number of employees, batch size, scale and finish of products, and customer base, 4) when did the shop start and how it has changed over time, 5) does the shop “collaborate,” 6) is the shop capable of making something different than they make today, 7) how does one find the right fabricator for a job in Detroit, and 8) how does being in Detroit affect the work.


We attempted to enter a partnership with a local non-profit to provide ongoing stewardship and maintenance for the Re-Tool-Kit for Detroit database and website. We imagined this would mean that over time the directory would expand to include more of the initial four hundred shops collected. Naively, we imagined handing everything over would be simple. It wasn’t. The local non-profit didn’t want everything for free. They wanted to pay us for it so they could re-skin it and use it for their own purposes. As bunch of well-meaning academics, this resulted in paralysis. Who owned it? Could we sell it? What exactly was “it?” The result was this project never had the impact we hoped it would have.





Date: 2012
Location: Detroit, Michigan, USA
Client: Self-initiated research project

Design: Spring 2012
Completed: Fall 2012

This project was made possible by a Research on the City grant from Alan and Cynthia Berkshire at Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning at the University of Michigan

Heidi Beebe
John Marshall (rootoftwo)
Julia McMorrough
Seth Ellis
Assisted by: Michael P. McCulloch, Erika Lindsay, Pooja Dalal, Melissa Ablin, Casey Carter, Hannah Hunt Moeller, William Martin, Anna Buzolits, Mariah Gardziola

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