Recent Opportunities


States of Disrepair / Acts of Repair: The Ethical Imperative

All our objects, buildings, and things share the same fate: they lose their sheen as soon as they go out into the world. Yet the design disciplines and professions tend to privilege the new, idealizing the building or product as the designer intended it to be, uncompromised by the elements and the inevitable wear and tear from use and misuse.

What if we, as designers and as citizens, paid attention to how our objects and buildings fare in the world: how they weather, patina, age, deteriorate, break down, and fall apart; how we keep them going by maintaining, servicing, adapting, and repairing them?

What would we learn from the many acts and operations -- large and small, by-the-book and ad hoc -- of repair and of maintenance: from work-arounds, quick-fixes, and improvisations to concerted efforts to preserve, restore, and reuse? What could we learn from the labor -- the protocols, skills, ingenuity, persistence, and hard work -- involved in repair and maintenance, labor that class and vocation render invisible to most university-trained architects and professionals?

What could we learn from instances of repair and maintenance in the past as well as in disciplines, practices, and situations beyond normative architectural practice: from roadside repair shops, online collectives, DIY home repair, and a feminist “ethics of care” to “design for remanufacturing”, “failure modes and effects analysis”, closed loop supply chains, and the struggle for “right to repair” legislation?

Could this looking and learning inform the way we design our buildings and our environments? Could an ethos of repair and repairing contribute to the way we conceptualize and practice architecture today? Could, for example, “designing for repairability” help us acknowledge the agency of the user/owner or the contingency and entropy of what we design and specify? Could mainstream architectural discourse and practice learn from preservation, restoration, reconstruction, adaptive reuse -- topics once central to morally-charged disciplinary debates that are now specialty topics or their own disciplines?

This session invites papers that look at how maintenance and repair figure within historical and contemporary architectural discourse and practice, as well as papers that speculate upon how they could inform it in the near future.

In order to sponsor a rich exploration of this topic, the session welcomes a broad range of methods and approaches. For example: case studies of exemplary projects as well as vernacular and craft practices; close readings of design contracts as well as specifications for materials and assemblies; theoretical or historical analysis of approaches to repair and disrepair (Viollet-le-Duc, Morris, Ruskin, Brand, Leatherbarrow, Otero-Pailos, among others); comparative accounts of how different disciplines (anthropology, archeology, art history), allied professionals (architectural engineers, building surveyors), corporate firms, or building trades approach repair; speculative design pedagogies that problematize breakdown, maintenance, and repair . . .

Information on the conference (15-17 March in Denver, Colorado), submission requirements, and the online submission process can be found on the conference webpage
SAH thanks The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Fund at The Chicago Community Foundation for its operating support.
Society of Architectural Historians
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