Sunday, July 8, 2012

Flint Public Art Project

Stephen Zacks, journalist in NYC turned producer/curator of the Flint Public Art Project, has offered to commission us for another house in Flint, MI.

FPAP just received a $250,000 grant from ArtPlace to re-envision the urbanism of Flint via a series of art and design projects focusing on social engagement. Collaboration between artists, designers, architects, urbanists, local businesses, and the community will seek to "contribute new sources of inspiration to the local culture, attract revenue to small businesses, draw activity to disused sites, support community organizations, and reinforce connections to the metropolitan, regional, and global economy" (Zacks).

The house in question is 520 University Ave, formerly known as Spencer's Funeral Home, which faces (among other things) catastrophic roof damage. I'll be heading to Flint next week to begin a 5-6 month live-work renovation (and Matt shortly thereafter, on a part-time basis). The aim is to convert this long-abandoned structure into something of an artists' collaborative, eventually obtaining a Certificate of Occupancy.

Posts here will be farther and fewer as attention is shifted elsewhere, but will still occur as projects happen at Southampton. Follow the blogs below for development of Dwelling on Waste: Flint.

Friday, July 6, 2012

The West Wing

After some downtime taking care of other end-of-the-semester tasks and a number of other ventures we've been able to get back to work on the house.

In uncanny timing, three letters from the city arrived the day after our 'final' presentation of the work. After eight months of dodging city officials, we've now been cited for lead paint, damaged roofing, cracked windows, and most ironically "trash/debris in the yard." We think he means our building materials, benches, and landscaping work.

In compliance we've begun to keep atop weeding and trimming more heavily, and hide some of the less typical sights from street view. We've also been made to remove the wood-burning stove which sustained us through the winter. Disconnecting the chimney pipe and moving the stove to the other side of the room is simple enough. And leaving the top part of the chimney exposed at the ceiling actually creates a point of ventilation for the now warm summer temperatures. In the meantime we'll be keeping our eye out for a stove more convincing of UL certification.

As we start to branch to other projects, we need to wrap up a few things at Southampton before our temporary leave. The tire foundation is not yet waterproof, which for now is not a major issue. But if the earth within them takes in a lot of moisture now, they're liable to freeze and expand in the winter, which can undo a lot of the rebuilding we've done. The original wall above it (on the weathered west side of the house) is also one of the most damaged in the house.

Shingles, faux brick, furring strips, wood siding, thick vertical boards and a window are hand in about an hour. After creating some temporary support set away from the wall we're able to get to the very top of the tire wall for the first time to run plastic and a more stable floor-wall construction.

With new a new top plate and base plate laid, the replacement wall is set up using old 2x4's stripped from another renovation on the West side. Thin 1/4" plywood is the only material we have to sheath the studs, which is far thinner than usual. We double layer and offset it for added strength. And instead of trimming the length of the second layer, we take advantage of its flexibility. The wall is skirted out to keep water from building up at the conjunction of the tires and wood.

Lastly, it's covered with spare roofing felt until we can add a more resistant siding material.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Ecological v. Ego-logical

We overheard some criticism the other day: "I don't get it. There isn't really anything new about this."
And generally they're right. After fighting off the natural urge to argue that it is indeed new, I think it best to respond more nimbly. So a few counter-questions:

What does being "new" have to do with creating productive, meaningful, and responsible architecture? This urgency among us to constantly be creating anew what often is not broken; What good does it bring? A deviation from need, humility, and civic duty. The Moai of Easter Island are a perfect example. Labor- and material-intensive statues everywhere one looks, each one larger than the previous. They suggest a cultural battle for dominance which quickly leads to a collapsing civilization  unable to organize or feed itself.

This isn't to say that innovation should be halted, but rather that 'new' shouldn't exist only for new's sake. And having the knowledge of all those who have done these things before us - these things which are highly resourceful, effective, attainable, and sustainable - we might inquire why they aren't a more prevalent entity. This thesis directly seeks to call attention to that which is old, plain, and obvious: waste. It's the overlooking of all of this material that we find incredible. There is much to learn from primitive ways of working and living which is regularly overlooked in our so-called developed society. So what's new here?

A recognition of the flexibility in materials so regularly overlooked. A movement past professional and social taboos. Spaces which not only address cultural circumstances on a very intimate level but which establish a new aesthetic which at once modest and stimulating.

Buffalo isn't a part of a third world country. The house and our own lives are embedded within a modern culture of readily available water and energy and iPhones and a culture which practices a life very different from our own. How our mediated way of living begins to insert itself into this pervasive culture becomes part of the challenge and part of the intrigue.

Our work may be seen as a sort of exaggeration – a critique of consumerism and the indifference to waste which has become the norm, of the sterility and preciousness of “high design.” If the responsibility of the architect is to situate material among context, the challenge is not to achieve a trashless space, but more flexible aesthetic and functional criteria to embed it in. Waste isn’t something to be shunned, but an underutilized resource capable of far more than we generally like to admit – not only a driver of ecological systems and financial accessibility, but an instigator of new breeds of architecture.

And that's not to say that "high design" is bad or shouldn't exist or is entirely selfish. Rather, that with a billion squatters currently in the world and billions of others who haven't reached the bliss all-marble furniture and LED facades, the amount of time, energy, and investment (and education) that goes into such projects is disproportional to our current needs.

"Innovative architecture," Googled

Kowloon Walled City

We don’t seek to redefine the profession of architecture – but to realign it with some of the more fundamental human necessities and desires which spawned the profession – and do to so in a way that is not only retrospective, but sensitive to the current cultural and economic climate. We seek to provoke a way of practicing, way of thinking, way of life – that we hope can become a more prominent figure in architectural practice.