The Life and Demise of the Dodo Bird

Hey SGS Team and chance readers! I’m so excited to have been invited to the famed DOTS blog and hope you enjoy this post about my design philosophy and preservation obsessions 😊 For a closer look into this presentation, please visit Schuyler’s presentation website: link here.

The final pin-up. Visit a digital pin-up here.

Abstract:

Entropy, a biological term which refers to the universe’s tendency to drift from a state of order to disorder, is perpetually at play in the built environment. Entropy begins to manifest the moment a project is termed “complete” or “finished” as its material construct, social or programmatic relevance, or stakeholders change form, fall apart, or dissolve. As opposed to objects of the natural environment, those of the built environment maintain a deep dependence on their community – occupants, stakeholders, and maintainers – for renewal of these aging or dissolving elements. Without these communities, aging elements of the built environment simply slip into states of monumental waste.

Before I go on, I should preface by saying that this past spring, I presented my undergraduate thesis at the University of Tennessee on this notion of entropy within the built environment. If you frequent the SGS office, you have probably seen the large 3D-printed Dodo bird replica standing resolutely on the corner of my desk. This Dodo bird became a crest for my project: and icon and symbol, an endearing mascot and, most importantly, a cautionary tale.

This project speculates maintenance, as a perpetual act, to be the force responsible for sustaining an architecture’s physical and social relevancy. In addition, it seeks to redefine preservation as not an act against entropy but an act that works in confluence with it in order to enrich the opportunities of age and change. Entropic Architecture is a systemic strategy to center the agency of maintenance, and thus preservation, within the hands of host communities in order to make preservation accessible to those whose resources, stories, and heritage are at stake. In an Entropic Architecture, Citizen Maintainers have agency, offered to them by prescriptive architectures and catalytic manuals of co-entropic operations. Within this system, architecture continues to age, but in confluence with the forces which generally act against it. Evolution, rather than dissolution, becomes the sustaining force for an architecture now enabled to adapt within its aging constraints or socio-political demands.

In this project, two characters merge to offer a rich commentary on preservation, both how it is currently and how it could be. These characters are 1. The Dodo Bird and 2. a network of abandoned military barracks located in Flaminio, just north of Rome’s Aurelian Wall and Piazza del Popolo.

About the Dodo Bird:

An extinct, flightless bird, the Dodo serves as both a symbol of the architectural sites of interest within this project as well as a cautionary tale in the theater of preservation. Originally from a remote island in the Indian Ocean, these birds were first seen by Portuguese sailors around 1507 and were hunted to extinction by 1681. There is little known about the physical appearance of the Dodo, other than the fragments left of the bird scattered around museums in Europe and the United States. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica,

The dodo is frequently cited as one of the most well-known examples of human-induced extinction and also serves as a symbol of obsolescence with respect to human technological progress.”

The Dodo is also fragmented in this project, but composed as such to represent the restorative traits of architectural maintenance. For the Dodo, the fragments of his form are representative of the actions, materials, speeds, and populations which the site exhibits throughout its speculative maintenance stories. Each Dodo iteration bears unique traits from the distinct maintenance happenings across its corresponding site.

In the images below, the original 3D printed Dodo has been iterated using tactics including fiberglass casting, plaster form-replicating, and silicone warping. These materials offer a form of preservation that seeks to extract an essence over the course of generational iterations while maintaining a relationship to the object or form of origin.

Iterative Studies of the Form of the Dodo Bird
the Form of the Dodo is derived from influences of both Deterioration and Preservation

About the Site:

Models of entropic architecture already exist around the world at sites such as the Ise Shrine in Japan, the Sagrada Familia in Spain, the Belapur Housing Complex in India, and I.M. Pei’s Pyramid at the Louvre in France. Each of these sites presents a different operative tactic for preservation such as Ritual, Aggregation, Performance, or Generative Spectacle. The research of this project is centered around applying each of these operations to the Flaminio Barracks where Citizen-Maintainers respond to the variables of age within a prescribed framework.

Existing Site: Via Flaminia shown beyond

This site brings with it an inexhaustibly large number of stakeholders and historical tethers. Located about two kilometers north of the city walls, the Flaminio Barracks have rested in a dormant and uninhabited section of Flaminio for nearly twenty years.

Ornament, relief, and early 19th century industrial style characterize the offices, warehouses, and production facilities. Brick, iron, and glass come together to compose an industrial whimsy. In 1915, the site was acquired by the Italian government to “enhance and intensify the industrial production of war materials.” All text, titles, and symbols of the prior tenants were covered or erased in favor of military and nationalistic insignias.

The site maintained its status as an aid to Italian war efforts until 1931, when it was converted back into an auto factory. Since then, it has evolved to meet the needs of subsequent industrial endeavors, such as the production of eyeglasses, until eventually falling out of the scope of relevancy. For the past twenty years, the site has seen little maintenance aside from the occasional arts exhibit that temporarily occupies a portion of one of the 13 buildings.

This site is, for this project, a preservationist’s playground. The drawing below illustrates how the monumental site was broken up into smaller parcels that would each host a different interpretation of preservation or maintenance in a “Preservation Exhibition.” Similar to the Dodo, each territory becomes a canvas of iteration as it makes certain demands of its user which inherently allow it to evolve over time. This comes in the form of a “Pantone Color of the Year Exhibit,” that sports a new color over its entire surface annually, or a dilapidated portion that naturally hosts circuses due to its open-air state, and others.

Exhibitions of Maintenance: speculative preservation strategies fill new territories within the existing site

Conclusion:

Ultimately, this project was born out of a frustration with the profession’s current perceptions and definitions of Preservation and Maintenance.  If you have read this far into the project, then you have already encountered two boldly-stated RE-definitions of these terms. For this project to operate at its desired scope and generate the multidisciplinary conversations required before it can touch reality, all readers must be cognizant of two requests:

1. Recognize that buildings are alive and, as living beings, require sustenance through relevancy (use) and maintenance (conservation).

2. Forget your current definitions for Maintenance and preservation and the occupations and qualifications associated with them.

Ultimately, Entropic Architecture proposes an architecture where age and decay gives way to opportunity for community involvement and expression.  In contrast to maintaining a linear, predetermined and narrow trajectory resulting in waste, John Ruskin writes that “every human action gains in honor, in grace, in all true magnificence, by its regard to things that are yet to come… Let us think, as we lay stone on stone, that a time is to come when those stones will be held sacred because our hands have touched them.”

And she’s done!

For a closer look into this presentation, please visit Schuyler’s presentation website: link here.