EMU historic preservation graduate student awarded scholarship for abstract

"Deconstructing Detroit: Partnerships in Reuse and Renewal"

by Kody Jon Klein, Published August 06, 2012

YPSILANTI - A student in Eastern Michigan University's historic preservation graduate program has been named one of the Association for Preservation Technology's (APT) student scholars for her abstract, "Deconstructing Detroit: Partnerships in Reuse and Renewal." APT is a cross-disciplinary, membership organization dedicated to promoting the best technology for conserving historic structures and their settings.   

Dawn Bilobran will give an oral presentation based on her abstract at the APT Conference October 1 in Charleston, SC. Her presentation was one of only 15 that were chosen out of 55 submissions by students from all areas of study in the field of historic preservation.

"I am so honored to represent Eastern's historic preservation program at APT and to represent Detroit and all of the things we're doing here for preservation," she said. 

Prior to coming to Eastern, Bilobran wanted to become a lawyer. She earned her bachelor's from Indiana University and was filling out applications to various law schools when she realized her true calling.  

"I wrote my law school application essay about the Michigan Central Station," she said. "Then I read it and thought, 'You should go into something different.'"

She decided to pursue a master's degree in historic preservation instead.

"That was a big reason why I came to Eastern," she said. "They had the only historic preservation program in the state and I wanted to focus my work in Michigan. Eastern was so attractive to me because I could practice my work in my home state. The historic preservation program here gives us so many opportunities to work around Michigan and to meet so many amazing people."  

Bilobran hopes to work in Detroit after she graduates in April 2013. Having grown up in metro Detroit, she says the Motor City has always been dear to her heart.

"Detroit was once referred to as the 'Paris of the Midwest,'" Bilobran said. "I don't think we received that reputation inappropriately. It's a wonderful town and the buildings are extraordinary. And the spirit of innovation in the town has never left."

Detroit has countless vacant buildings, in varied states of disrepair, she said. While some have called for their demolition, Bilobran believes they should be deconstructed.

"When you deconstruct a building, you're saving the architectural components that compose that building," she said. "Detroit has way too much of a housing stock right now. We know, as preservationists, that we will not be filling those houses with a population again. As preservationists, deconstruction is our last ditch effort to restore."

After she graduates, Bilobran hopes to open a full-service deconstruction and salvage business that will work extensively in Detroit.

"We're going to do a lot of work in Detroit," she said. "I'm hoping to at least have a retail space down there."

Bilobran said that a large-scale deconstruction effort could help Detroit in many ways.

"We're approaching these homes in a new way and by doing that, we're creating jobs," she said. "We're creating an economy and saving pieces of structures that would've ended up in a landfill."

Despite the daunting obstacles that Bilobran and her colleagues must overcome in order to save Detroit's architectural heritage, she said she has hope.

"I believe in Detroit. I really do," Bilobran said. "We can't get those buildings back. People tend to miss things when they're gone. Part of my goal is to not get us to that point."

In her attempts to spread awareness of historical preservation, Bilobran has also begun writing two books. The first is a children's book called, What Used To Be Here.

"The idea is a young boy on a walk with his mother who sees an old foundation and the dialogue begins of buildings coming down and what used to be here," she said.

The second is a book about Wallace Frost, an architect who designed many buildings in southeast Michigan.

"Before I knew who he was, the homes he built always spoke to me," Bilobran said. "As I've gotten older, I've realized that nothing concise has been written about this prolific man, so it became my job."

Each scholarship recipient is required to create an electronic presentation to support their oral presentation during the APT fall Conference. For more information about EMU's historical preservation program, go to EMU Historic Preservation. For more about ATP, go to the ATP organization website.



Pamela Young

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