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)