Reading Sites, Building Stories

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Doing architecture is an act of bricolage. New things take shape out of the existing. The architect makes do with the materials at hand. Accidents happen, incidents occur, circumstances meet. The site-specific nature of the architectural project opens up questions on how to work with materials at hand and as found, and how to capture, approach and unlock their meanings and stories. This paper explores acts of reading, narrating and translating sites as fi elds of architectural exploration. It grows out of an ongoing educational and research program, developed in the Chair of Urban Architecture at Delft University of Technology, which engages with the real stuff and site-specific elements of the city. Architecture is approached from a sustainable understanding of structures and materials, that in a sense are continuously ‘on the move’, transforming from one project, meaning or purpose to another. In the paper, work from three graduation studios is used to reflect on ways of acting upon the materials and conditions of a site and how to ‘read’ cultural, historical and political forces at work. The potentials of sites are exploited through the exhibitions of visual media, working from section drawings and material samples to moving pictures and sequential stories. The paper argues for stretching and thickening the architectural project. To stretch means to improvise and experiment; a willingness to cross disciplinary boundaries, to see through spatial scales and to involve notions of past, present and future. To thicken requires time and care; to look careful, be non-judgemental, and embrace ambiguity and contradiction. The architecture of bricolage, we argue, refers to acts of interpretation, adaptation, re-use and juxtaposition. The existing materials are input for design thinking, as resources and components. They refer to physical elements of a site, as well as to neighborhood structures, social spaces, political and economic developments. To bricks and buildings as well as stories and histories.

Sites are found, stories to be told. The paper offers three episodes of fieldwork, that each touches upon a specific feature of the as-found as architectural discourse. ‘Spolia’ introduces the collector and the practice of re-purposing and re-use: to transplant existing pieces into new structures. ‘Bricolage’ offers architecture as a science of the concrete and specific; to make do, and use what is at hand. ‘Gleaning’ concerns acts of reading and reaping; the glaneurs harvest the field by collecting left-overs. In three episodes the paper explores an architecture that acts upon the existing and grows out of the specifics of a place and time. The paper is a collaboration between practicing architects and an anthropologist, and is inspired by practical needs and academic reflection.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAs Found International Colloquium on Adaptive Reuse
Subtitle of host publicationBook of Abstracts
EditorsNadin Augustiniok
PublisherHasselt University
Number of pages2
ISBN (Electronic)9789089130839
Publication statusPublished - 2023
EventAs Found: International Colloquium on Adaptive Reuse - Hasselt University & Flanders Architecture Institute, Hasselt, Belgium
Duration: 5 Sept 20237 Sept 2023


ConferenceAs Found
OtherFrom 5 to 7 September 2023 the Flanders Architecture Institute and Hasselt University organized the international colloquium As Found. It aimed to bring together designers, researchers and students to discuss experimental concepts and practices to intervene in the existing built environment and heritage.

The colloquium is closely linked with the exhibition As Found which will take place from September 2023 until March 2024 in De Singel in Antwerp.
Internet address

Bibliographical note

The organization of this international colloquium was made possible through the generous fi nancial support of the DIOS Incentive Fund (UHasselt), the Doctoral School of Behavioral Sciences and Humanities (UHasselt), and the Research Foundation Flanders (FWO), as well as the invaluable practical assistance provided by the Faculty of Architecture and Arts of UHasselt and the Flanders Architecture Institute. Our heartfelt appreciation goes out to all our esteemed colleagues whose dedicated efforts contributed to the seamless execution of this event. This colloquium is organized as an extension of the exhibition As Found: Experiments in Preservation by the Flanders Architecture Institute. Curated by Sofie De Caigny, Hulya Ertas and Bie Plevoets, the exhibition is on show at De Singel, Antwerp, from 6 September 2023 to 17 March 2024. The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue, available in English (ISBN: 9789492567321) and Dutch (ISBN: 9789492567338).


  • architecture
  • bricolage
  • gleaning
  • glaneurs and glaneuses
  • anthropology
  • urban architecture


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