Do you remember the story of the Dutch boy who stuck his finger in the dike to stop the leak and saved the town?

That’s what three Dutch architecture students are doing in Detroit. They hope to put their finger in the dike and help Detroiters cut their energy costs and save more houses that might still have life from demolition.

Bob Hendrikx, Dominik Lukkes, and Ronen Dan just launched their nonprofit Motown Movement project, which aims to make blighted homes livable again by reducing energy and maintenance costs.

That would be great news for many Detroiters, some who say their energy bills are higher than their rent.

The initiative stemmed from a recent visit to Detroit.

Dominik Lukkes

They say before they came here they expected to see a city in full decay. Instead, they saw a city putting itself back together and recovering its lost glory. That made them wonder if it was necessary to demolish so many houses in Detroit instead of raising them back to living conditions.

They saw great potential in implementing simple but effective sustainability technologies that go along with the city’s resilient, independent and free spirit.

Starting February 2016 the three founders began setting up collaborations with several organizations that are deeply rooted in the community of Detroit, such as Focus:Hope, EcoWorks, Midtown Detroit and the Greening of Detroit.

Now, more than a year and two visits later, they are back and ready to go. They’ve put their studies at the Technological University of Delft on hold for a year so they could put what they’ve learned into practice.

“With our nonprofit organization we fight climate change by making sustainable housing accessible for everyone,” says Hendrikx. “We design and share low-budget methods for you to transform your own house into a self-sufficient home.”

The students purchased a broken-down, two-family home on Ford Street for $1,000 and will turn it into a free education center for affordable green home transformation to help people suffering from high energy bills lower their costs. Prior to starting the rehab they shared their plans with neighbors to be sure they matched their needs.

“We will share our knowledge on two platforms,” says Dan. “First, an online platform that will serve as a menu for money-saving techniques. Second, and the most important one, is a free education center. Now people can come together and learn about sustainable housing.”

The ground floor and basement will be turned into a training and resource center where free workshops will be given on sustainable building and where neighbors can meet, work and share and have access to free Wi-Fi and computers.

The second floor will be given to a family that lost their home due to recent tax foreclosures. The demonstration home ensures the family has lower energy bills and also gives inspiration to other families, neighborhoods, cities and countries.

The sustainability methods were developed together with Lawrence Technological University and the Technological University of Delft and can be used in any home.

Some of them include making space heaters from flower pots, bubble wrapping windows, insulating with cellulose blur and putting a brush on the bottom of an outside door to keep the cold out.

The house will also have a green roof made of grass, which keeps things cooler in the summer and reduces rainwater runoff.

Outside they’ll plant a community garden in collaboration with the Glazer Elementary School across the street. Water from the toilet, shower and kitchen will water the garden.

The transformation began in early April and will be finished in mid-June. Afterwards, the students will publish all the findings on their website, documentary and book.

“The problem right now is sustainable housing is too expensive and too state of the art,” says Lukkes.

They need to raise $50,000 to get the job done. Their crowdsourcing campaign for transforming the house into an education center ends April 18. To support The Motown Movement click here. As of today (April 11) they’ve raised just over $32,000.

If they reach their goal the Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA) and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation’s (MEDC) Public Spaces Community Spaces grant will double the amount.

To bring this issue to the attention of Detroiters the students have started a campaign called Destroy or Rehab? They put posters throughout the city on boarded building and painted the outside of a four apartment brick home at 9308 Genessee St. built in 1924, which is scheduled to be demolished in June.

The students know that the house on is beyond saving but want to make passersby aware that there is a choice in every abandoned home.

“Rehabbing a home might seem an unachievable project, but perhaps when put to light that we can save tremendously on maintenance cost such projects can be made viable,” they say.

Remember the tale of the little Dutch boy at the beginning of this story. He not only saved the town, his dedication got others to come and help plug the leak. These Dutch Boys and their Motown Movement may well do the same in Detroit and turn an initiative into a movement.

For more information go to

Share this post