Partially Buried University


Session Title:

  • Digital Media, Space and Architecture

Presentation Title:

  • Partially Buried University




  • Robert Smithson realized one of his first works of Land Art at Kent, Ohio in January 1970. “Partially Buried Woodshed” was an example of the process he called “entropy made visible”. At the time, Smithson said he had always wanted to bury a building.?For my part, I have always wanted to unearth a Smithson. He never had the time to bury other buildings. He died in a plane crash in 1973. Or did he? What if a man going by the same name were to show up here in Europe? Suppose that the University of Paris 1 invites him to realize an earthwork on its campus.

    The Centre Saint Charles has a problem with rain water collecting on the roof and infiltrating the lecture hall just below. Inspired by two of Smithson’s projects, “Partially Buried University” involves creating a garden on the roof terrace to absorb the residual water, reduce our carbon footprint and contribute to sustainable development. Since the roof was never intended to support the weight of growing trees and shrubs, it is likely to collapse. The garden can then develop on its own, with weeds springing up throughout the building.

    A 3-D model of the roof was built, simulating weather conditions and plant growth, thanks to models developed by scientists at the ECP-INRIA. The visitor stands in front of a 3-D VR projection of the building, on the second floor overlooking the roof which has been made into a garden. She chooses a seed, moves through the garden to plant it. After a number of people have sown poplars, cypresses, pines, maples and chestnut trees, the garden grows quickly, the roof just may give way and visitors suddenly find themselves climbing over rubble in the lecture hall below.

    I will document the creation of PBU from preliminary research on Smithson’s conception of entropy, and the early public reception of his earthworks, to the collaborative process at work here, involving artists, scientists and developers.

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