The latest exhibit to hit the Storrs Gallery is Associate Professor Greg Snyder’s “The Metal Building in an Expanded Field.” As the exhibit’s opening night namely touched on the metal building as the “go-to” for efficient and quick construction, it also spoke to the culture of making and how essential it is to designers and artists alike. Every component, from model making to erecting a house of cards, lent something to the ideas at play in Snyder’s unique collection. What I had imagined to simply be a discussion on the various types and uses of steel and other metals within the realm of architecture soon unfolded into a brief introspective into the exhibit’s own host.

While many might not know of Snyder and his distinct palette of teaching architecture, I personally am quite familiar to it. As a frequent occupant of Storrs Hall, I often saw Snyder as but a passing face in my studies as a young architecture student. It wasn’t until sophomore year that I had the professor for a course concerning the various materials that go into architectural design. As I did with many of my professors, I quickly crafted an image of who I saw Snyder as in my mind. Like many others, I found myself searching for an alias to put him under. The philosophical smoker. The semi-neurotic film advocate. The one who babbled at 80 miles per hour. The semi-accurate titles I had given my other professors just didn’t quite fit with Snyder. Although I had my reservations about him as a professor, there was still much to be gained from the way he taught. After taking his class and interacting with him a bit more, I saw Snyder as a number of things apart from simply a teacher. He was like any architecture professor should be: still a child at heart; excited about things and how they are made. He obtained objects and ideas and sought to understand them. He was above all a collector. A collector of things.

At the time, these “artifacts” he collected weren’t all that interesting to me. They displayed a history of making that was surely not as relevant today as it had been in the past. Building blocks, “kits of parts,” metal Erector sets, objects of the past that seem all too ordinary in the current age of technology. These objects represented something profoundly different to Snyder. It was this rich history of making and playing that drove his curiosities as both teacher and maker. It was in his introduction to the Storrs Gallery exhibit that Snyder quoted architect Aldo Rossi, saying, “The emergence of relations among things, more than the things themselves, always gives rise to new meanings.”

Entering the gallery on Feb. 1, the meaning behind these objects was laid bare. Not immediately, however. Once you accessed the gallery through a pair of looming metal walls and a crowd of eager faces, the faces of those professors I had always likened to an alias, tables were adorned with layer upon layer of intricate meaning. The idea for the gallery and its stark yet captivating display began with the metal building. Like Snyder put it, these structures — warehouses, sheds, factories, barns, storage containers — are commonplace in our society. They represent the idea of the “kit of parts” (a popular phrase among Snyder and many other professors) like nothing else. Manufactured, prefabricated and built in little to no time, there is a peculiar architectural appeal to the metal building.

If you thought the extent of the exhibit stopped there, you’re surely wrong — just as I was. While Snyder sought to understand the metal building for what it is, items one can out of a catalog and erect in their backyard within weeks, he yearned to start a conversation as well. As a colorful amalgam of objects littered the tables of the gallery, the looming walls that surrounded it seemed to almost disappear. The things on the tables, as well as the walls, spoke to ideas of sharing, collecting and learning from our past. Be it the paper and metal models of cars and buildings placed neatly beside stacked editions of the Steel Construction Manual or modern LEGO sets sprawled beneath a screen playing David Byrne’s “True Stories,” these artifacts began to showcase the expansive reach ideas about making and collecting can have.

As the mind of Snyder lay in every corner of the room, the things on display were surely not from a single person. As I darted around the room from table to table, glaring at the walls briefly only to be torn away by some trinket on the table, there were many ideas from a number of disciplines on display. Concepts of building structure intermingled with tractor catalogs (clearly from Snyder’s shelf), architectural drawings pinned on the walls looked down upon books of theory and film, and an air of conversation filled the room, one that would surely extended beyond the metal walls as the night went on.

With Snyder contributing to the conversation and while his peers and students encouraged to marvel at and question the display, the artifacts told a story that many could relate to. This interweaving of distinct objects and other things represented the collective consciousness of what it is to be a maker. While the inherent focus of the metal building told something of the ease and efficiency of an industrial America, the objects in the room told of the philosophy of the maker. Always the innovator, the maker collects and interprets things of the past and brings them to the present. The metal building, while often easy and commonplace, is complex to the eyes of Snyder and numerous others. It holds a rich history that touches upon a composite of fascinating themes beyond simply architecture.  

Leaving the gallery that night, a quote out of Snyder’s introduction stuck with me: “Where do ideas come from, and how do we keep them in play?” The metal building, in its intricate simplicity, was an idea. It will continue to evolve and be reinterpreted beyond the extent of where Snyder might place it now. One goal of his, however, was to capture the essence of the metal building within the culture of making. A cost-effective idea based on building blocks and catalogs. The same items that sit on the shelf of the teacher, collector, maker, now tinkering with what he has just up his sleeve.     

“The Metal Building in an Expanded Field” opened on Feb. 1 and will remain in Storrs Gallery until March 1. The gallery will be updated weekly as Greg Snyder adds to his “9 Ideas for Long Farm” section of the exhibit.

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