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Farm Storage Metamorphosizes Into the ‘Caterpillar’ Housing Development

Planning + Development

Farm Storage Metamorphosizes Into the ‘Caterpillar’ Housing Development

April 30, 2021
Quonset hut
Photo: Kimberly Boyles |

During World War II, the U.S. Navy developed a prefab housing structure deemed the Quonset hut. Today, those huts are used for storage on farms, but the arched steel structures are now designed as sleek, nature-focused apartment buildings in Detroit. The mind behind the idea, real estate investor and developer Philip Kafka, says it’s his attempt to bring affordable but well-designed buildings to Detroit. Fast Company reports that the building, dubbed the Caterpillar, costs $1.5 million for an eight-unit building. Each unit features 750 to 1,350 square feet of space with 23-foot high ceilings.

Originally from Texas, Kafka previously ran a successful advertising company in New York, and began visiting Detroit to look for investment opportunities in 2012. The city’s abundance of vacant land and a resurgence of interest in urban living led him to begin developing real estate. Through his company, Prince Concepts, Kafka has been buying land and building unique projects in Detroit ever since.

His first project, True North, was a hit. A collection of nine rental homes and duplexes built using Quonset huts and oriented around shared open space, the project opened in 2017 and was soon winning architecture awards. It has been fully occupied ever since. As Kafka acquired more land in the city, he began looking for other opportunities to use the Quonset hut. Down the street from True North, he combined seven vacant residential lots to create the setting for what would become the Caterpillar.

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