UCL Grand Challenges


Deconstructing Demolition: Journeys through scrap and salvage

A small grant was awarded for a Grand Challenge Sustainable Cities project.

1 August 2014


Grant: Grand Challenges Small Grants
Year awarded: 2014-15
Amount awarded: £4,000


  • Hilary Powell, Bartlett School of Architecture
  • Susanne Kuechler, Anthropology, Social & Historical Sciences

Deconstructing demolition: Journeys through scrap and salvage puts the politics and ethics of waste and progress under the microscope through the simple act of withdrawing materials from their endless (re) circulation as commodity (waste) and transforming it into a creative practice as its own form of ludic refuse/refusal refusing and cutting the expected network/system of use value.

Within this project disciplines come together not only through theoretical debate but through the practicalities of solving the problems of making with the materials involved and the issue of joining up the real and imagined narrative links in the complex journeys of trade and value. It uses the demolition site as a means of connecting diverse yet interconnected arenas of knowledge exploring abstract concepts of economy and waste through immediate, visual and tactile methodologies.

This coming together of artist and anthropologist within a wider experimental and collaborative framework that takes in chemistry, Archaeology and Science and Technology Studies is an exciting prospect for cross disciplinary research in material culture. 

Impacts and Outputs


  • Urban Alchemy (Powell, H., 2016. Urban alchemy. Techniques & Culture. Revue semestrielle d’anthropologie des techniques)

Urban Alchemy captures the story of these experiments in a book inspired by alchemical 'books of secrets'.

Workshops & Events 

  • Urban Alchemy Book Launch - Launch of Urban Alchemy, a project uncovering the people, processes and materials of a city and site undergoing constant transformation, demolition and renovation.
  • Alternative Stone Lithography masterclass - In collaboration with UCL Institute of Making, Festival of Stuff
  • Giant woodcut and brick ink making - Urban Alchemy skip and roadroller printing at the Festival of Stuff streetextravaganza in collaboration with UCL Institute of Making

More about Urban Alchemy can be found here.