American Spolia is a search for a possibility of creating new cultural meaning out of existing context that is decidedly “not ancient”. The medieval builders may have opted to reuse Roman columns primarily because they were too laborious (or, given the state of craft in the early middle ages, simply impossible) to re-fabricate. They then discovered serendipitously that those old artefacts had also augmented the meaning of the new context, thus stimulating a distinctive cultural practice. In our contemporary situation, what would encourage reuse of building parts that are so inexpensive, so readily available off-the-shelf in great quantities and often so laborious to remove from their original contexts, to jumpstart a cultural practice of reimagining our legacy infrastructure, built environment, landscapes, objects and ideas from the last two centuries? An abstract desire to keep durable materials out of landfill is a good start, but perhaps this do-good attitude alone is not enough to carry a contemporary phenomenon of spolia.Read More
In search of these additional stimuli, we consider art historians’ explanations for the existence of spolia applied to contemporary context. For example, as related to vinyl siding – can there be convenience and availability, profanation or exorcism, damnatio memorea, political legitimization, aesthetic wonderment or admiration? In addition to these considerations, there exists a dire need to stop tapping into virgin materials and to learn to defamiliarize and decontextualize artifacts of the recent past instead, to find useful applications for the mountains of things (materials, products, objects, even ideas) that we already have. The aim of this project is to discuss spolia in the context of contemporary [American] architectural practice and pedagogy from the standpoint of designers, builders, educators, and students, using the examples of speculative, educational, commissioned and built projects of varying scale, program and attitude toward reuse of our perhaps not so distant past.
In discussing American Spolia, the city of Detroit provides critical context, on par with Ancient Rome that presented ample possibilities of reuse, reinvention and reconsideration to Medieval builders. Proposed exhibition will situate the possibility of American Spolia (AMSP) within Antiquity, Modernity and especially Contemporary periods. Exhibitry will consist of objects, models, drawings produced specifically for the exhibition by Lawrence Technological University students as part of 2018 LTU CritPrax, work by Austin+Mergold (A+M), as well as a series of background images, photographs, and texts curated by A+M.
A+M explore local vernacular conditions to discover how an efficient (and economical) reconfiguration of available materials, forms and methods, informed by the latest advances in technology, can result in an improved quality of life for communities and individuals. A+M thrive on solving design problems around multiple obstacles: time and budget constraints, common (often, unglamorous) materials and utilizing the long-established local methodologies.
A+M’s work has been featured in Hong-Kong Shenzhen Biennale, BIO50: Ljubljana Design Biennial and Cornell Council for the Arts Biennial; the work has also been published in a variety of media, including Architectural Record, Thresholds, Domus, Mnemeio & Perivallon, 306090, BLDGBLOG, Specialle-Z, The Architect’s Newspaper, The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Residential Architect Magazine, and The Cornell Journal of Architecture.
Candice Kay McFadden
Ashraf Ahmed Hijazi