New Public Excavations
The City Performs an Autopsy
AbstractThe paper draws on recent salvage archaeological excavations in Melbourne, Australia that prompt questions on architectural concerns of ‘site’ in contemporary architectural discourse. For design practitioners, site is usually communicated in direct and straightforward ways, with some practical understanding of the physical forces that form the current site, but little of influencing political or cultural elements. This is particularly problematic in settler-colonial cities such as Melbourne which are built out of complex and contested environments. The urban archaeological excavation is therefore seen as a metaphorical ‘autopsy,’ a brief moment of pause when the site’s history and composition can be publicly examined and challenged. Crucially, the act exposes the significant and potent presence of ground and dirt as actants in the city. This paper examines archaeological and architectural texts and practices to explore the added meaning that a refocusing on dirt and ground as material and medium can add to the architectural reading and interpretation of site in the settler‑colonial city.
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