At the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Gaithersburg, Maryland (US) there is a large south facing wall that looks like it might be a piece of abstract public art. Made from 2,352 different samples of stone it is in fact a testing wall where the effects of the weather on building materials are measured…
The wall was built in 1948 in Washington, DC, before being moved to the NIST site in Gaithersburg in 1977. It contains stone from 47 US states and 16 other countries – from varieties of basalt and bluestone, to marble, limestone, sandstone and tuff.
I was led to read up on the NIST Test Wall and its steadfast research into the effects of weathering (as you do) after photographer Thom Atkinson sent over some of his recent pictures of English pavements, or rather of pavement repairs. Perhaps as ordinary a subject matter as you’re likely to find.
But the aged asphalt in his photographs shows the recognisable signs of deterioration and the subsequent fixes made over the years. The use of new materials, usually in a much brighter, blacker hue than that of the existing well-trodden pavement, mean that the flooring takes on that familiar urban scarring, with the cracks, cuts, fill-ins and repairs building up across one another.
Simple as they are, Atkinson’s images record the imperfections of the streets, the marks of things being dug up and replaced; of electrics being tinkered with, water and gas pipes changed. They reveal that something even as robust as the surface of the street is never stable: when they’re not being bashed up by the weather, like that pixellated wall in Maryland, we’re busy taking them apart ourselves.
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