Wes Janz is an architect whose practice and teachings focus on the transformative potential of “leftover spaces,” the informal settlements and refugee camps that house 1 billion of the world’s poor. He sees 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.
Janz, who holds a PhD in architecture from the University of Michigan, teaches undergraduate design studios and the graduate professional practice class at Ball State University. Janz created onesmallproject, 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. Janz’s further intention is to offer the pallet building—a collaboration of architects, engineers, and professional builders—as an example of how to improve both new and existing informal settlement dwellings. He plans to post a set of pallet garage drawings online.
Much of Janz’s work explores 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. He continues to take his students on tours of post-industrial cities in transition to identify opportunities for architectural interventions that can potentially improve people’s quality of life.
One person. One architect. One small project. Repeat.
— Wes Janz