SchoolArts Room

Theme: Construction/Deconstruction

By Nancy Walkup, posted on Mar 7, 2018

At first glance, it may be difficult to say if the building pictured here is being constructed or taken down. It is an on-going construction project, part of an Earthship Biotecture community north and west of Taos, New Mexico. An Earthship is a type of off-the-grid house built partially below ground with natural and recycled materials to produce its own water, energy, and food. The main construction materials are adobe, old tires, and empty cans and glass bottles. There is a community here of these houses, a visitor center, and a school to learn how to make Earthships. You can also spend the night in one.

A building in progress at the Earthships in northern New Mexico


We visit here quite often to watch the construction of this and other new buildings on the site. I find the playfully curvaceous lines and forms of these handmade structures very appealing. They seem to grow right out of the ground and remind me of Antoni Gaudi’s similar architectural forms in Barcelona such as the Sagrada Família and Güell Park.


Because such designs and materials are so appealing, they offer an engaging introduction to the art of construction for your students. You could have your students build with similar recycled materials in either collaborative or individual projects. In such projects, students can experiment with structure, engineering, and construction as they work.
Deconstruction, the flip side of construction, is also worthy of experimentation. In broad terms, deconstruction is the selective taking apart of an object or idea to better understand its meaning or how it works. Art criticism is basically a form of deconstruction that can lead to a better understanding of an artwork. 
In architecture, deconstruction is the selective taking apart and reusing of building components, described by Wikipedia as a kind of “construction in reverse.” Deconstruction is necessary before materials can be reused in Earthships.
Whether you focus on construction or deconstruction, it is invaluable to include three-dimensional concepts and projects in your curriculum as much as possible. Oftentimes students who may not be confident in their drawing skills may excel at working in three dimensions.
Expensive materials are not required for construction. Paper sculpture can be made from construction paper, file folders, tag board, cardboard, mat board, Styrofoam, toothpicks, and paper straws or struts. Clay and other modeling materials or found objects or pieces of wood also offer avenues for your students to explore. If you use centers, you could set up a “construction zone,” and have all these types of materials available there.
Construction/deconstruction projects work well for collaborative projects, where students can help and learn from each other, whether they are building a structure or analyzing a work of art.
As comedian Lily Tomlin has said, “The road to success is always under construction.” Help your students follow that road.
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