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Wes Janz

Wes Janz is an architect whose initial practice and teachings focused on the transformative potential of “leftover spaces,” the informal settlements and refugee camps that house one billion of the world’s poor. He would see these sites as living testaments to human resourcefulness and ingenuity; the shelters built from detritus and recycled materials possess a utilitarian beauty wrought of necessity. In recent years he has directed his attention towards America’s prison systems, focussing on the issue of mass incarceration in the country.

Janz, who holds a PhD in architecture from the University of Michigan, taught undergraduate design studios and the graduate professional practice class at Ball State University. He created one project, an immersive learning seminar and online archive to document projects inspired by the unauthorized dwellings people have constructed using scavenged materials, from packing crates to corrugated steel drums. Houses made from timber pallets in Chihuahua, Mexico, for example, inspired Janz to use the material when constructing a garage on his property — the structure may be the first permanent timber-pallet building to secure a building permit in the US. 

 

Much of Janz’s work explored the “fourth world,” or “third world conditions in the first world.” His research project “Deconstructing Flint” sought to create a practical manifesto for tearing down thousands of abandoned houses in the declining Rust Belt city of Flint, Michigan, in ways that reduce landfill waste and salvage as much building material as possible.

 

For the last 7-8 years, Janz has been studying and exhibiting his learnings on the scale and ethics of incarceration, and has drawn attention to the issues central to the jailing and imprisoning culture, especially the juvenile justice system. Alluding to the title of his 2013 book about repurposing used materials, he believes the incarcerated people too are “Leftover Rightunder our eyes and our lives”.

Janz has observed hearings at juvenile courts, participated in several prison-based peer support and group circle programs that allow incarcerated men to counsel and be counselled by people on the outside of the system, and continues to build on what he feels is still a very nascent understanding of the prison industrial complex.