fbpx Biennale Architettura 2021 | David Gissen, Jennifer Stager and Mantha Zarmakoupi
La Biennale di Venezia

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David Gissen, Jennifer Stager and Mantha Zarmakoupi

An Archaeology of Disability

  • TUE - SUN
    22/05 > 31/07
    11 AM - 7 PM

    01/08 > 21/11
    10 AM - 6 PM
  • Arsenale
  • Admission with ticket

David Gissen (American, b.1969) of Parsons School of Design/The New School University (USA) Jennifer Stager (American, b.1978) of Johns Hopkins University (USA) and Mantha Zarmakoupi (Greek, b.1975) of University of Pennsylvania (USA)



An Archeology of Disability presents an experiment in historically reconstructing the Acropolis in Athens. A classical archaeologist and architecture historian, a historian of classical art, and a physically disabled historian and theorist of architecture thus recover ideas about bodies and impairment at one of the most canonical, influential, and notoriously inaccessible historic architectural sites. The project explores what it means to reconstruct lost elements of the Acropolis through the lens of human impairment. Such an approach is in contrast to the pursuit of “accessible heritage”; it balances the historic authenticity of architecture and the technical modifications made for contemporary accessibility. This alternative to accessible heritage is what the authors of this project call “an archaeology of disability.” This not only recovers artifacts relevant to contemporary disabled people, but it involves reconstructing the past in languages and forms relevant to disability and its experience. Collectively, these reconstructions reconsider disability and the historic past, moving beyond technological fixes to predetermined physical objects. Rather, disability emerges as a form of historical inquiry, archaeology, and reconstruction, informed by the experience of collective human difference across space and time.

Biennale Sneak Peek

These images show possible reconstructions of a stone that was used as a seat at the Acropolis in Athens, Greece, 2000 years ago. Reconstructing this stone is part of our efforts to “restore disability” to the Acropolis and in a few different ways: the stone was used as a place to rest after the tiring climb to the top of the Acropolis. Its restoration offers something that acknowledges the arduousness of the site and that is very different than the emphasis on monumentality in the official reconstructions happening at the site. Additionally, the stone’s only surviving description is from a brief text: at the top of the Acropolis ascent was a prominent artifact “a stone large enough to be used a seat for a small man”. From this description, arises uncertainty over this seat’s form. We want to use this uncertainty to project potential variations that suggest forms of human and material difference. Some of the seats are the size of taller and more polished stones for those who need help sitting down; some stones are wider and rougher for those who cannot see well, among other differences.

Photos: Stone Seat Reconstruction Studies, 2021


The New School University Johns Hopkins University
The Center for Hellenic Studies, Harvard University
Humanities + Urbanism + Design Initiative, University of Pennsylvania
Powered by Onassis Scholars’ Association

Production credits

Project management and fabrication: Alessandro Borgomainerio
Project design assistant and fabrication: SeungHyuk “Avo” Choe
Actor: Christopher Tester
Filmmaker: Dragana Latinovic
ASL Interpreter: Pilar Marsh
Advisor: Georgina Kleege
Translations: Schreiber Translation, Incorporated

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Biennale Architettura
Biennale Architettura