In the early '80s, during a time of hopeless economic and social
malaise, a bunch of Detroit poets, artists and anarchists read a clandestine, utopian tract on economics called "bolo'bolo." Written by a Swiss-German with the pseudonym of "p.m." (post-Marxist?), it was an inspired description of an economic alternative to the failed European left-wingers of the time. The writer invented a totally new vocabulary to describe an economy based on need and ability: if you have a talent, vision or building material, share it; if you have a need, tell it (bolo'bolo).
In Detroit's Corktown neighborhood, a small collective of designers, artists, artisans and dreamers called Los Pistoleros is involved in a dreamy project reminiscent of bolo'bolo.
When I walk into Phillip Cooley's apartment-in-progress on Michigan Avenue, he's chopping up an enormous pile of garlic, onions and tomatoes. I'd stopped in to get some info about Los Pistoleros, nostalgic and curious if there really was any ideological relationship to our old bolo'bolo.
There's a small group of people there and Cooley invites us to stay. He's a young guy with a kind of quixotic, noblesse oblige charm. The food smelled good and we stayed.
Cooley talks about Los Pistoleros' design aspirations and especially his personal desire to build green, with an environmentally sustainable practice. Part owner of Slows Bar-BQ, Cooley built the handsome wooden wall in his restaurant from milled 2-by-12s recycled from old buildings. "Not only are we recycling wood that would normally end up in a landfill, we're recycling first-growth pine forests that is better than any of the stuff from lumber yards."
Among other Los Pistoleros collaborators are architect and designer Brian Hurttienne, who works with Hamilton Anderson Associates, metal and robotics wizard Chip Flynn and Ann Arbor-based architect Derek Roberts.
"Phillip is the glue that holds us together," Hurttienne says. "He's the dreamer and my role as a perhaps more experienced architect and businessman may be to assert a little practicality."
For Shrinking Cities, an exhibition at MOCAD and Cranbrook exploring the identity shift of major cities in Europe and the U.S., Los Pistoleros built an 8-foot-by-12-foot "Homeless Shelter," after working with Motor City Blight Busters to demolish a partially burnt-out home in Brightmoor, a low-income northwest Detroit neighborhood. Hurttienne is an idealist about recycling old homes to build new temporary shelters for the homeless, but he also sees it as a potential industry.
Los Pistoleros is also interested in making objects and furniture. "Usually architects end their careers making a line of kitchen tools or furniture," Hurttienne says. "We want to do it with the ideas we have now. I want to make a perfectly functional spatula that of course becomes a sculpture when it's hanging on the wall."
Chip Flynn, the Pistoleros go-to construction and metal guy, recently spent much time perfecting the process of building concrete sinks for a Royal Oak auto supply company. Flynn was trained in robotics engineering and worked on Discovery Channel's Mythbusters.
"Phillip wants to make everything out of wood and with a green philosophy," Flynn says. Then he adds, "I try to convince him to make it out of metal. I say, 'Hey, it'll look much better in stainless steel. We recycle too.'"
And Derek Roberts, who works with Lord, Aeck + Sargent Architecture, an Atlanta-headquatered architecture firm with an Ann Arbor office, is committed to Los Pistoleros. He makes a salient statement: "You either extract materials locally from an old building or you cut down a tree in the Amazon forest. Calculate the costs. I would like to see southeastern Michigan become a leader in reuse practice."
I ask Cooley about whether they are entrepreneurs or dreamers and he diplomatically avoids my question: "We have ideas and dreams, and we have a lot of skill and talents between us."
It's clear that Cooley and his cohorts are passionate about their mission, envisioning new design and building practices for the local culture.
Glen Mannisto writes about art for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]