Austin+Mergold - 2018 Master Practitioner

15. February 2018

The 2018 Master Practitioner for the summer Critical Practice experience is Austin+Mergold.

Having practiced for over a decade in the United States, Austin+Mergold have realized that all their work refers back to the relentless desires to make sense and use of the various debris of the [recent] past. Having reflected on this further, Austin+Mergold decided to consider their work as the pursuit of American Spolia.

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.

In search of these additional stimuli, Austin+Mergold 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. And 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 meta-project is to chart the ancient practice of spolia in the context of contemporary [American] architectural practice from the standpoint of designers, builders, and educators on the platform of practice of Austin+Mergold.

Austin+Mergold has just won the 2018 City of Dreams Pavilion Competition

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