Repairing run-down buildings one Lego at a time

Repairing run-down buildings one Lego at a time
Photo: Kathleen Waak
The colourful plastic toy bricks you may have noticed patching up buildings around Europe recently have nothing to do with municipal budget cuts. Shannon Smith examines a Berlin-based artist’s quirky open-air installations.

Jan Vormann hopes you remember your youthful fondness for Lego.

The Berlin-based artist’s “Dispatchwork” project appears simple enough at first glance: observant passersby in the German captial’s Mitte district this summer could spot chromatic constellations of Lego and other building blocks filling holes in the facades of buildings on the Humboldt University campus.

Still pockmarked from World War II and 40 years of communist neglect, the surfaces proved to be the perfect candidates for Vormann’s exercise in collaborative repair.

“We wanted to demonstrate the effect of filling a hole, but also how a repair can highlight it,” the 26-year-old artist told The Local recently.

On certain days, lucky passersby and visitors to the exhibit – sponsored by Berlin gallery Jarmuschek+Partner – could be seen altering the installation, removing, rearranging and reusing the toy bricks as they saw fit. Vormann described public participation as a fundamental aspect of the project.

Click here for photo gallery of the art project.

“I think one of the reasons people are so willing to join in is the excitement inspired by building blocks and creation,” Vormann said. “Almost everyone has some sort of emotional connection to Legos.”

Berlin was one of several stops including Bocchignano, Italy, Tel Aviv, Israel, Amsterdam, Belgrade, Serbia and most recently St. Petersburg, Russia. Vormann said the idea originated as part of a project called 20Eventi on an invitational trip through the Sambina region of Italy.

“I began noticing that the locals would make repairs to damaged walls and other structures with whatever they had lying around,” he explained. “They were repairs made out of necessity, and the special thing was that it worked. In fact, often times something more beautiful was born.”

The Amsterdam leg of the art project took place in cooperation with the Institute for Achitecture ARCAM and Platform 21, an organisation and self-described design platform, which touts repairing rundown objects as a valuable and endangered undertaking. It’s Repair Manifesto has already been downloaded more than a million times, according to the group.

“Whereas our Western society is trained to always want the newer, better and shinier version, dismissing chipped or superficially damaged items as broken, Jan Vormann is not afraid to make his repairs visible,” explained Dewi Pinatih of Platform 21.

Vormann’s work “shows what repair should be about: a hefty dose of improvisation, mixing old and new techniques and materials and above all, he’s having fun with it.”

Representatives of Platform 21 contacted Vormann and were quick to recruit him as a platform ambassador. Not long after, select parts of Amsterdam received their own “Dispatchwork” repair treatment.

“It was incredible to see a group of serious adults turn into people enthusiastically playing and digging through their bags of Lego looking for the right brick,” recalls Pinatih.

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