Architect’s “transgender” transit shelter needs a home

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“Transgendered” was the last thing on Alexander Pollock’s mind when he designed a bus shelter more than three decades ago. In fact, he didn’t even know what the word meant — and when he looked it up in the dictionary, it wasn’t there.

This was back in the 1970s, when the federal government offered to fund new transit shelters throughout Detroit. Pollock loved the idea of creating whimsical structures that related to a building’s function — an accordion for Orchestra Hall, can-can dancers for the Fox Theatre, a bookworm for the public library, and the male and female symbols for the Detroit Medical Center.

“Then someone told me it was the transgender symbol,” said Pollock, who lives in Chelsea. Though he couldn’t find it in the dictionary then, “now, it’s a hot topic.”

Indeed. Merriam-Webster, which says its first known use was in 1979, defines transgender as one “who identifies with or expresses a gender identity that differs from the one which corresponds to the person’s sex at birth.” In other words, people who believe they were born in the wrong body. The transgendered community has made great gains in social acceptance and legal protection in recent years.

That is all beside the point to Pollock, who calls himself “a licensed architect who went astray.” The male and female symbols beautifully illustrate the concept of human health, he said, so he prefers to call his design merely “Gender.”

“I just thought it was cute to combine the male and female symbols,” he said.

Detroit didn’t move quickly enough, and federal funding has long since disappeared for the shelter project. But Pollock, who spent most of his career with Detroit’s Planning Department, just couldn’t get the idea out of his mind.

“What makes a city world-class is the unexpected image people discover when they visit — San Francisco and the cable car, St. Louis and the Arch — something that clearly sets the city apart. It gives people happiness, joy, a smile on their face; and that is what these shelters would have done,” said Pollock, 73, who retired four years ago. “Can you imagine how nice these shelters along Woodward Avenue would be?”

Pollock believes so strongly in the idea that he spent $20,000 of his own money to have the “gender” shelter built by a metal fabricator. He chose that one simply because it was the least-expensive to construct of all his designs.

Some hand-colored sketches from Alexander Pollock for transit shelters around Detroit

“It is 9 feet high, 7 feet long, 6 feet wide and weighs 800 pounds,” he said. “The people at Special Fabricators in Madison Heights are really upset with me because this thing has been sitting there for three years, and they want it out of their building.”

Pollock would be thrilled to accommodate them, but he just can’t find a home for the shelter. Though he’s offered it for free, it’s been turned down by a number of hospitals, medical schools, the Southeast Michigan Transportation Authority and various municipalities, including the city of Ferndale, which just took a pass in December. But Pollock is not giving up.

“This little bus shelter represents what architecture is supposed to do — stimulate discussion — even though I didn’t know I was making a transgender logo,” he said. “This little bus shelter deserves a home. It’s a piece of art.”

Alex Pollock

 

To reach Pollock about the sculpture, email Keri Guten Cohen at kcohen@renmedia.us. Put ”sculpture“ in the subject line.

 

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