Unit 1

Matter Matters 

Catherine Ahn + Fabrizio Furiassi

Mierle Laderman Ukeles, Touch Sanitation Performance, 1979-1980 
Louis Nevelson, Mirror-Shadow VIII, 1985

Matter Matters will investigate the evolutionary arc of materials in architecture and construction. The unit will look at construction and demolition [C&D] waste as a type of cultural production, an unintentional “phenotype” generated from its “genotype”—the material culture in architecture and construction.

The unit is premised on the idea that examining unintended byproducts of cultural production will evidence the true forces that motivate our decisions, which are often hidden in the shadow of our idealized self-images (our designs, drawings, and buildings). Our hypothesis is that current material selection, extraction, production, and installation practices are governed by—rather than the professed values of beauty, sensitivity, preciousness, craftsmanship, complexity, and rootedness—shadow rules of efficiency, convenience, luxury, affordability, simplicity, and newness. 

These shadow rules generate an abundance of irregular and misshapen waste materials, which our unit will re-imagine as a new material reserve and creative source for design. Over the course of ten days, we will close-examine the heaps of waste and debris that are subconsciously produced, as a way to discover and construct new material and tectonic imaginaries. We will attempt to find ways of seeing trash anew through close readings of existing material waste and understanding its social rules for selection, to invent new cultural “genotypes” that, in turn, manifest in new material “phenotypes.”


In resonance with the walking explorations of 2022 AAVS9.0 K-Beats studio, participants will explore “waste” sites such as construction waste collection facilities in Gimpo and Geomdan or manufacturing facilities in Onsu and Euljiro and photograph or video-document their walks. We will analyze and discuss these first-person documentations together as a group, as well as the current arc of construction materials from quarry to selection, fabrication, installation, demolition and finally to landfill; their larger ecological, labor, and environmental justice contexts; and potential ways of diverting materials from landfill via imaginative reuse and intelligent (dis)assemblies. Through discussions, video-editing, and photo essays, participants will develop a working hypothesis/ critical stance about the topic of material waste, and the stance will in turn become a point of departure for their urban or architectural interventions. 

Rather than eliciting direct “ethical” responses or techno-utopic solutions to the environmental catastrophe of construction waste, our unit will focus on playful experimentations that address the aesthetics, iconography, tectonic vocabularies, structural potential, and formal implications to be found within the material affordances of construction waste. Borrowing from the rich traditions in visual arts that alchemically transform unwanted materials into new aesthetics and narratives through assemblage, collage, recontextualization, reconfiguration, abstraction, and performance—as seen in the “trash” art of Louis Nevelson, El Anatsui, Phoebe Washburn, Robert Rauschenberg, and Arte Povera, and the conceptual provocations of Mierle Laderman Ukeles calling attention to the social production of trash and the invisible labor behind trash removal systems—our unit will discuss and explore the creative potential of waste materials in an attempt to find new evolutionary paths for earth’s materials and resources.

Tools & Method
Our unit will consist of 1-2 days of intensive seminar and tutorials (reading and discussion), 3-4 days of field research and interpretation (photography, video documentation, and editing), and 3-4 days for the preparation of an architectural proposal and presentation (short texts, drawings, and images).

Before launching into research and design work, the class will be exposed to a variety of artistic precedent and theoretical frameworks for materialisms and waste. These articles and examples will be discussed collectively and will serve as references for the participants in the definition of their design work. Discussions about the participants’ objectives and works-in-progress will be conducted in a supportive workshop environment that will hone each participant’s research agenda and approach to Matter Matters.

As for field research, participants will be asked to use iPhone/Android photography and videography to document chosen site(s). Participants will be given short tutorials on investigative research, video editing (Adobe Premier, Final Cut, or iMovie), and drawing techniques. Our unit aims to provide participants with qualitative tools for exploratory analysis, representation, design, and “critical action” to identify and document complex material trajectories in the city as well as to interpret and narrativize them into project-based interventions. 

Documentation from AAVS Seoul 2022 Unit1


Catherine Ahn

Distributed Architecture
/ Andrew Franz Architect

Fabrizio Furiassi

Distributed Architecture
/ Parsons School of Design
/ University of Basel