The following was a proposal for the Objects competition attached to UT Austin’s forthcoming The Secret Life of Buildings symposium.

This proposed object is a 1’ regular cruciform of solidified soil, manufactured by adding a binder to material gathered from the back lot of a 1920s Craftsman-style bungalow.

The quintessential “trash that talks back,” urban soil is a compressed language resource: it is equal parts noise and signal, partially inert and partially latent. Most pertinently for the occasion at hand, it takes on the character of the buildings it comes to surround. Over time, it accepts tarpaper, screws, washers, lead paint flakes. And as it compacts, it comes to repel its former inhabitants: water and organisms.

The proposed urban soil product is a rhetorical machine that fills the tacit requirements of the call:

-It must look like an object, and thus hold itself back from run-of-the-mill high aesthetics.

-It must be novel enough to burnish the bonafides of all involved, while humble enough to be properly shippable and objectlike.

-It must command respect by either plainly saying that it has a secret, or by going all out and revealing some secret of building life. (The cumulative effect of bringing together all of these objects, it has to be supposed, is to suggest that all secrets are interesting and eventually exposed.)

-It must speak to architects in a pidgin they are already halfway to understanding – hanging some new connections between the pieces of an old syntax or vocabulary.

I ask that you leave it outside, so its machinic qualities will become more evident.*

*I should have just said what I meant: I want it to fall apart again.

(October 2016)