Thesis project captures grain elevators as sites of material agency

Published November 1, 2019

Justina Dziama stands in front of a facade/exterior of a grain elevator at Silo City.

Justina Dziama's thesis is inspired by the post-industrial landscape of Buffalo in which ruins, as sites of material agency, demonstrate the transformations that take effect with a lack of human intervention and upkeep. 

Justina Dziama is a recent graduate of the Master of Architecture program and the International Media Architecture Master Studies Program, a joint degree of UB and the Bauhaus Universitat Weimar.

Her thesis, Millimeter of Space, approached Buffalo's Perot Grain Elevator and Malt House as ruins in a post-industrial landscape.

Using the exterior surfaces of each structure - untouched by humans since their closure decades ago - as a record of natural material transformation, Dziama captures the surface deterioration through a series of hyperphysical castings fabricated from latex. Once removed, the castings form sheets that reveal the physical traces of continuously changing environmental conditions. As records of a surface that has evolved over time, the architectural films or skins provoke consideration of the junction between the natural and human made; the aesthetics of the aged surface and important role it plays as a maker of form. 

Her research was co-directed by UB architecture faculty members Georg Rafailidis and Nicholas Bruscia and advised by Stephanie Davidson as a member of her thesis committee.  

A swatch of the exterior surface of a grain elevator is marked as the site of Dziama's thesis research.

Dziama uses the exterior surfaces of each structure - untouched by humans since their closure decades ago - as a record of natural material transformation.

According to Dziama, the topography of this decaying, industrial architecture showcases materials as vulnerable embodiments of the past, subject to the threat of time. In this case, time becomes an important architectural element of these spaces and heightens our awareness about the lifespan of building as moving projects in a successive flow of transformations.

Her work was recently installed as part of the Buffalo Arts Studio Summer Solstice event at Silo City. The sheets were hung inside the Perot Grain Elevator, acting as "curtains" to guide circulation and allow visitors to experience a multitude of vantage points as they moved through the space. Dziama says her aim was to encourage the viewer to reexamine their own relationship with the site and the history it represents.

Dziama is clear about her intent. She is not trying to solve a problem. She is not exploring practical applications of her research. Rather, Dziama says she is “enamored” of the colors and textures of these surfaces and interested in the processes that created them. Her thesis quotes historian Cyril Stanley Smith: "Discovery requires aesthetically-motivated curiosity, not logic, for new things can acquire validity only by interaction in an environment that has yet to be." Still, her work, in the words of her thesis committee co-chair Nicholas Bruscia at a public critique last December, is “fundamental architecture.”

Dziama's thesis was recently installed as part of the Buffalo Arts Studio Summer Solstice event at Silo City. The sheets were hung inside the Silo, where they functioned as a series of screens or shrouds directing the viewer to reexamine their own relationship with the site and the history it represents.

Her work was recently installed as part of the Buffalo Arts Studio Summer Solstice event at Silo City. The sheets were hung inside the Perot Grain Elevator, acting as "curtains" to guide circulation and allow visitors to experience a multitude of vantage points as they moved through the space. Dziama says her aim was to encourage the viewer to reexamine their own relationship with the site and the history it represents.

Dziama says her upbringing has had a great effect on her work. Raised by a Filipino mother and a Ukrainian-American father, Dziama says she is acutely aware of cultural diversity. Today she is a member of the Filipino-American Association of Western New York where she works to promote cultural awareness and support an environment that welcomes diversity. Says Dziama: "The more perspectives that are applied to a design problem, the more enriching the experience of a space is for everybody."

She dedicates her thesis to her grandfather Mykola Dziama, who immigrated to Buffalo in the late 1940s and worked in the steel mills along Buffalo's waterfront. "The exploration of these places has allowed me to connect to my family history and to Buffalo’s industrial heritage, reconstructing stories that were shared with me over the years, and imbuing them with an unwavering presence."

Dziama has gained professional experience in the field of architecture with the office Davidson Rafailidis - directed by UB architecture professors Georg Rafailidis and Stephanie Davidson - where she assisted with the production of stop motion animations exhibited at the Harbourfront Centre in Toronto, Cinema Ideal at the Lisbon Architecture Triennale, and BIO:50 the 2th Biennale of Design in Ljubljana, Slovenia. She has also collaborated with media artist Stanzi Vaubel producing drawings and fabricating inflatable performance spaces for Buffalo's Indeterminacy Festival.