Spolia: Histories, Spaces, and Processes of Adaptive Reuse

Saturday, November 15, 2014 at 11:50am to 1:50pm 


The symposium will be exploring the subject of ancient phenomenon of spolia and its relevance to our present need for more sustainable and resilient human patterns of habitation.

Spolia refers to using scavenged materials for new (and often originally unintended) purposes in constructed environment. This practice is millennia old, dating back to Ancient Egypt and perhaps beyond. Both extremely pragmatic and symbolically charged, spolia is a complex phenomenon; beyond mere recycling, it also has social, cultural, and even political dimensions. Many sites, buildings, structures of antiquity were repurposed into newer edifices, not only to facilitate the production of new form, but also to claim the cultural and political heritage of the donor structures. Spolia is now mostly considered an archaic practice in sharp contrast with today’s global mainstream design culture in which the life expectancy of buildings, landscapes, objects, images, technology — and even ideas — is increasingly (and often purposefully) short. Yet spolia has a direct relationship with our current, emerging concerns with our environment, and the resulting developing interest in adaptive reuse, recycling, life hacking, and the slow movement. It is related, also, to various vernacular phenomena, like jugaad in India, and the extreme design that originated in the former Eastern Bloc, driven by necessity after the downfall of the communist economies. Furthermore, spolia offers a new perspective on the historic preservation debate around the conservation of particular moments in history versus the preservation of traces of the continuous historical development.

The purpose of the symposium is to examine these complicated but productive relationships embedded in spolia in order to better understand its potential in contemporary design practice, art, history and preservation, material science, and formation of culture.

Friday, November 14Opening and Reception

5 p.m., Milstein Hall Dome

Exhibition by the students of ARCH 4605/6605 in collaboration with the classics department (College of Arts and Sciences) and FSAD (College of Human Ecology)

Reception: Spolia & Food by Café DeWitt

Keynote by Kate Orff, Scape

5:45 p.m., Abby and Howard Milstein Auditorium

Saturday, November 15Panel Discussions

10 a.m.–5 p.m., Abby and Howard Milstein Auditorium

Bryan Bell, Design CorpsGregg Buchbinder, EMECO IndustriesMargaux Kent, Peg and AwlDale Kinney, Bryn Mawr CollegeDennis Maher, University of Buffalo/Assembled City FragmentsGeoff Manaugh, BLDGBLOGErnesto Oroza, Architecture of NecessityRenny Ramakers, DROOGAbraham Thomas, Sir John Soane MuseumAda Tolla/Giuseppe Lugano, LOT/EKModerators

Jeffrey Chusid, Department of City and Regional PlanningJack Elliott, Design and Environmental Analysis, CHEDenise Ramzy, Design and Environmental Analysis, CHEOrganized by Aleksandr Mergold, Department of Architecture
Assistants: Juliette Dubroca and Andrew Fu