With an expression of intensity that later broke into a grin, Eden Marek, a graduate research assistant from Cornell University’s Department of City and Regional Planning carefully commanded a drone into the air. She was documenting Northland Pattern Wall: City of Past and Future Craft, a large 40′ × 17′ assemblage artwork. Drone footage glides along a vertical city topography constructed out of salvaged wood, tools, and other found objects such as door components, eave brackets, and bits of inlaid flooring. The scale of this imagined city is varied and its details intricate. There are whole city blocks and street systems; a belt and pulley system appears as either a rail corridor or beltline highway for a miniature metropolis. The “craft” in the title of the artwork refers to the skilled labor that continually builds and rebuilds the city by hand; the assemblage artwork places in the foreground the labor, tools, materials, skills, and creativity employed in the construction of place and care of the built environment (figs. 1, 2). The artwork is crafted out of salvaged materials from the real city where it is located—Buffalo, New York. Reclaimed pattern molds line the top of the artwork; these were used in the making of tools and machines for sheet-metal work.
The Northland Pattern Wall was designed and constructed by students and instructors in the Society for the Advancement of Construction-Related Arts (SACRA), a vocational program of Assembly House 150 (Assembly House). Assembly House’s mission is to “create inspiring, wondrous environments for all to experience the art of building.” As an artist-led experiential learning center, Assembly House aims to “transform lives and the built environment through art, design and construction.”1 Dennis Maher, a Buffalo-based artist and clinical assistant professor at the University at Buffalo, founded the nonprofit and the educational program.
The lifeworks of Maher and the nonprofit organization that he built span a nested hierarchy of city patterns. Maher teaches his students attention to the detailed patterns within the interior and on the exteriors of buildings, from the joinery in furniture to the architectural patterns represented in porches. The city patterns central to his classes and to his artwork extend outward to a bird’s-eye view of building types, street patterns, and urban forms. In Maher’s solo artistic works, he playfully sculpts with these materials, and his reverence for the elements and repeating patterns that comprise cities is apparent in the Northland Pattern Wall.
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