From the Video Vault: "Chemical Architecture"

From the Video Vault: "Chemical Architecture"

Student working on an installation at "PLASTIC as Plastic" exhibition, 1968

A Yale architecture student sawing an opening in the experimental dwellings installed inside the museum for the "PLASTIC as Plastic" exhibition.


What do you get when you mix architecture students, a bunch of burlap, a whole lot of urethane foam, and a couple young filmmakers in 1968? A humorous little documentary called “Chemical Architecture” by Paul Schlaifer and Frank Mouris for the “PLASTIC as Plastic” exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Crafts.

As museum director Paul Smith described for the exhibition catalogue, “Plastics are man-made, and the ramification of this fact for the future are virtually without limit as long as man’s mind can continue to conceive of possible chemical combinations and design applications for these materials.”

Students of the Yale architecture department took this to heart and, under the direction of professor Ralph Drury, dreamed up a way to combine common materials, chemistry, and architecture to create experimental dwellings inside the museum. The dwellings were made using sewn and inflated burlap forms coated with expanding urethane foam. This film documents the process of making these plastic dwellings inside the museum’s exhibit hall, but it’s not just a dry documentary.

The more I work with the archives of the Museum of Contemporary Crafts, the more I realize how many artists worked with the museum at pivotal moments in their careers. In this film you can see the beginnings of Frank Mouris’ collaged film style that would become his signature. Less than a decade after “Chemical Architecture” was created, Frank Mouris won an academy award for his short, animated, and heavily collaged film, Frank Film.

Heather Carroll is an art historian with an interest in museums and archives. She is pursuing her MLIS degree at St. Catherine University. She’s also a 2016 Windgate museum intern and is working with the ACC Library staff this summer to digitize and edit audio and video footage from the ACC archives.