Preserving the Legacy of Detroit Through Architectural Salvage

by Leah Hill on February 23, 2021


Bo Shepard of Woodward Throwbacks

    Sustainability is multidimensional and through creative action we can incorporate its principles into almost every aspect of our daily lives. As we, as conscious individuals strive to promote the practice of meeting our needs without compromising the quality of life for future generations, a fundamental commitment towards sustainable living is reborn. Woodward Throwbacks, a sustainable design studio based in the city of Detroit, is breathing new life into abandoned architectural pieces and preserving Detroit’s history. The legacy of Detroit is rich like the heart and soul of its people, which explains why Detroit, architecturally, was built using such honest, strong and enduring materials.

    Bo Shepard and Kyle Dubay created Woodward Throwbacks out of their sheer passion for wood working and appreciation for repurposing historical materials. Despite the city's development of many new and modern built homes and condos, Bo Shepard and Kyle Dubay saw the value and beauty in the thousands of abandoned buildings within their city. Instead of turning a blind eye, the pair decided to embrace the various amounts of usable material in these buildings and reimagine them into classic and innovative designs. Through salvaging doors, wood boards, tiles, and so much more from old or abandoned buildings, Woodward Throwbacks aims to remind Detroiters of the value of existing materials. What started as a way to help clean up neighborhood streets, led Bo and Kyle toward building sustainable products for their community. Now as a nationwide brand, Woodward Throwbacks is known for their waste-free yet profitable process of creating beautiful and authentic products for homes and businesses.


What inspired you to see materials in Detroit neighborhoods and think that you could repurpose them into new designs?

    The idea of reusing materials from our neighborhood was a combination of wanting to help clean our community by targeting "illegal dumping sites'', but it was also out of necessity. Practically fresh out of college and on tight budgets, we first started making pieces simply to furnish our own apartments. We found that the key to repurposing is to see found materials as they are, materials. With myself as a designer and my partner Kyle an artist, it felt natural to take those materials and reimagine them into something completely new. 

As your operation has grown, what effect have you seen on your community from your efforts to practice sustainability?

    As our brand and our efforts to spread the importance of sustainability grows we have also seen the same efforts within our community. Rather than contribute to the landfills, we are seeing more and more people seeking to repurpose or donate usable materials. As well as homeowners seeing the value and beauty of their old homes and seeking advice on how to preserve them instead of tearing everything old out and starting from scratch.


As a Detroit resident and artist, do you feel a responsibility to bring attention to the historic beauty that is embodied in the city’s communities?

Woodward Throwbacks Repurposed Designs

    As an artist and resident of this city I do feel like it's our responsibility to highlight Detroit for what it was, what it is, and what it could be in the years to come. Detroit was once one of the richest cities in the world. And you can see it in the architecture, which is one of my biggest inspirations. When we design and build using Detroit materials we feel that we are preserving in our own way the rich history of that material. As well as paying tribute to the culture that created the communities in which the materials came from.


What does it mean to you to be able to repurpose materials from past generations for future generations?


    While I do prefer to use older materials from past generations to share the history to future generations. I think the beauty of using repurposed materials is the sheer concept that you can transform any object/ or material and make them completely new. Our goal is to share and spread the philosophy for sustainability whether you're using materials from the late 1900s or materials created in 2020.

    And we hope our future generations will continue the never ending cycle of repurposing whether they are using materials from the 20th century or the 21 century.

Written by Naomi Hill 


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