Uncommon Building: collective excavation of fictional structure

(Un)common Building: Collective Excavation of Fictional Structure had its beginnings in an experimental workshop jointly organised by Theatrum Mundi and the University of Sheffield in April 2016, when a multidisciplinary group of creative practitioners and theorists contributed their expertise to a collaborative ‘archaeology’ of a non-existent building — a lost structure (or structure of loss) of which virtually nothing was then known. Contributors were provided with a minimal briefing as to the building’s qualities – it was said, for example, to be ‘wild yet tender’ in appearance – and asked to speculate as to the structure’s contexts and contours via responses in any medium to a series of questions such as the following:

How did the building sound?
What was its function?
What did the building believe in?
What was the building called?
What were its materials (what was it made of? what did it make?)
What shadows fell from its walls?
For whom was the building intended and whom did it include or exclude?

The range, resonances, and tensions of the collated responses were striking, with the accompanying discussion raising questions concerning the methodological possibilities and ideological implications of documentation as creative practice, cultural value in the context of the built environment, the problems of conceptual translation across disciplines, and the scope and application of speculative fiction in connection with the urban.

Honor Gavin, co-organiser of the workshop with Adam Kaasa, is now undertaking an Academic Residency with Theatrum Mundi between February and July 2017, enabled by a HEIF award, allowing to develop ‘(Un)common Building’ into a larger project. Ultimately, doing so will entail exploring more fully – and more fully articulating – what was and could be at stake in the workshop’s initial conception and methodology, what exactly might be meant and entailed by the building’s un/commonality, and what possibilities for cross-disciplinary collaboration the project more broadly holds.