In advance of the competition where several teams of students will be given the same object and asked to transform it into something else entirely, we spoke with Assistant Professor of Practice Andrew Santa Lucia and Professor of Architecture & Director Clive Knights about the ideas that surround this experiment in object manipulation.

DWP: Are there limitations to what the participants can do to manipulate the objects they’ve been given? For example, are they allowed to melt or powder what they have?

Andrew: There is no limitation to what participants can do with the objects. They are absolutely encouraged to dematerialize and deconstruct these objects, but there should be a visible resemblance to the original.

Clive: It’s essentially ‘adaptive re-use’ at the scale of objects, and as a project intended to stimulate imaginations there are certainly no creative limitations to the extent or nature of the transformation they enact.

DWP: Is there a time in recent memory where you’ve had to turn one thing into something completely different? Were there any challenges there and what did you learn from that?

Andrew: The discipline of architecture regularly uses different mediums (buildings, books, technologies, drawings) to represent itself. In this way, architects almost always turn one thing into another, depending on social, programmatic, structural, and aesthetic issues that might define a context of their work.

Clive: Some years ago, our former colleague Emeritus Professor Rudy Barton, curated a show at the AIA Portland Chapter, in which design professionals across the city were asked to transform a simple cigar box into their unique approach to architecture. That’s a lot to fit into a tiny space and therefore demanded acts of translation, deploying figurative means such as metaphor, synecdoche and metonymy.

DWP: In a sense, this is alchemy. If nothing functional comes from this experiment, is there still value in the process?

Andrew: Absolutely. In a very real way, this exercise asks participants to create an object they would use in a survival kit, but that is not utilitarian. As humans, we already ascribe meaning onto many non-useful (and in many cases unproductive) objects whether for nostalgia, memory, or tribute, but also for no reasons other than meeting objects at their own level without over-mining them to something larger than what they are or undermining them to their parts.

Clive: Functional objects are closed around there purposefulness, offering no room for ambiguity and interpretation. Mysterious objects are open to interpretation, potent with undiscovered, perhaps inexhaustible, meaning. Our challenge to the participants will be to shift the ordinary towards the extraordinary; the mundane towards the transcendent; so yes, not unlike turning base materials into gold.

Event Details

Where: Shattuck Hall, 1914 SW Park Avenue
When: Friday, April 20 3:00 PM to 5:00 PM
Organizer: Portland State University School of Architecture
Cost: Free

Visit the event page to register.