Thursday, June 4, 2009

smallBIG: early thoughts

David Stairs, founder of Designers Without Borders, has posted the second section of a two-part article I wrote for his Design Altruism Project blog, titled “First Name Basis (Part 2).” In it, I profile, briefly, six projects and the designers/architects who worked on them, all centered on the search for what I call a “humane architecture.”


These days, I’m photographing small architectures in Indianapolis. This is part of my efforts to believe in and see the small piece of architecture created by local people.

Parking lot booth, intersection of South and Madison Streets, Indianapolis, 2009. (All photos by Wes Janz unless otherwise noted.)

Also, as I’m putting together a show at the Sheldon Swope Museum in Terre Haute, Indiana (February 5-March 13, 2010) titled “small architecture BIG LANDSCAPES.” I’ll include images of small architecture I find in Indianapolis, to suggest that small, interesting buildings are everywhere. This effort is just beginning and can be seen at this flickr collection.

An update on the Show at Sheldon’s . . . eight persons or teams will each create and build a piece of “small architecture” size 40”W x 96”L x 96”H, each installation to interpret a particular setting. Among those invited:

Ana de Brea and Paul Puzzello (Ball State University) and Wil Marquez (A2SO4) will draw inspiration from a single dwelling or a way of building from the “villa miseria” or the cartoneros (cardboard scavengers) of Buenos Aires.

A man sorts through garbage near Florida Street, Buenos Aires, 2006.

Maria Vera (Southern Illinois University) is considering an interpretation of culturally grounded “sustainable” building practices in her home country of Peru, specific to an audience of children in the United States.

Matt Miller, of Housing Operative (Detroit) and faculty member at Rhode Island School of Design and UC-Berkeley Extension, will modify a local concrete block system for a school that he will design and build for HIV/AIDS orphans in Ethiopia.

Olon Dotson, with whom I organized the Midwess Distress Tour (2006) and Distress Too Tour (2008) of Rust Belt cities, will focus on issues of abandonment, demolition, and loss, as redirected by personal initiative, sustenance, and tomorrow.

Public, outdoor bread-baking oven in Braddock, Pennsylvania, 2008.

Scott Shall (Temple University and International Design Clinic) will construct a prototype of the “mobile crèche” school he designed with students in 2008 for the children of construction workers in Mumbai.

Suzan Wines and Azin Valy of I-Beam Design, with whom I coordinated the Timber Pallet Workshop in 2004, will create the world’s “smallest timber pallet house” as a way to advance their research into transitional housing for internally displaced persons.

Participants in the Timber Pallet Workshop at Ball State University, 2004.

Tim Gray, of Gray Architecture and Ball State University, will interpret the inhuman “dimensions” of a prison cell, as informed by the living conditions of the 3000 men incarcerated near Terre Haute.

And Vijitha Basnayake will continue his efforts to provide better on-site temporary housing for construction workers in Sri Lanka.

In addition, approximately twenty two-dimensional works will interpret similar themes of small architecture in big landscapes. A number of “interpreters” are being invited to add, through the writing of short essays, their perspectives on the creativity many people bring to their lives every day, because they have no choice. And finally, a 300-square-foot gallery will be used to profile local people in their immediate building cultures, along with the tools that were and are used to create the small architecture in which each lives and/or works. Invitations to all of these persons are being sent out at this time.

Matt Hart swings a mamotty as CapAsia students help catalyze construction of the new village of Kalametiya, Sri Lanka, four months post-tsunami, March 2005 (photo by Tim Gray).

Finally, for now, I’m thinking of sending the show out into the world, as a series of “probes,” each installation going to a different location, to stimulate another set of discussions, maybe to inspire the creation of another “small architecture.” Sites could be a gallery in Braddock, Pennsylvania, an abandoned house in Flint, a farm field in central Wisconsin. Matt Groshek, whose Visual Communications students at the Herron School of Art and Design in Indianapolis will be helping me design and produce materials for the show, came up with this idea, to have the show not be the end of the conversation, but the beginning. So . . . if you are interested in hosting an installation, or have a fun idea of where to put a piece, please, let me know.

You can follow these efforts at the wiki site I’ve put together for “small architecture BIG LANDSCAPE."

So . . . yeah . . . that’s what’s going on.

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