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Wes Janz

Dr. Wesley Janz is a Professor Emeritus of Architecture at Ball State University, Indiana and the founder of OneSmallProject. Currently, he is working to draw attention to the issues central to the U.S. prison system.

In 2005, Janz founded OneSmallProject, a collection of local initiatives from around the world that highlights the lives of people considered by many to be in need or at-risk. His initial practice and teachings focused primarily on the transformative potential of “leftover spaces:” the informal settlements and refugee camps that house one billion of the world’s poor. Houses made from timber pallets in Chihuahua, Mexico, for example, inspired Janz to use the uncommon material when constructing a garage on his property. The structure may have been the first permanent timber-pallet building to secure a building permit in the US. 

Much of Janz’s work explores the “fourth world,” or “third world conditions in the first world.” His 2013 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.

In the past decade, Janz has directed his attention toward America’s prison systems, focusing on the issue of mass incarceration in the country. He lives eighty miles from the U.S. Penitentiary in Terre Haute, IN, the site of the country’s only federal death row and execution chamber. In the last months of the Trump presidency, thirteen people were put to death at the penitentiary, an event unprecedented in United States history.

 In the summer of 2020, unable to find obituaries for the first five people executed, Janz began work on “critical obituaries” in the hope that the writings would reveal both the broken life trajectories of the people executed and the brokenness of the U.S. legal system that demanded their ultimate sacrifice. Each obituary, ranging from 3500 to 8500 words, situates the worst decisions and deaths of the executed person’s life from their birth, childhood, and youth, to their crimes and (mis)treatment within the criminal justice system. Currently, he is working on the completion of the collection of obituaries and looking for a publisher.