People, Places, Things
Sam Jacob Studio for architecture and design
is a collaborative practice that makes
buildings, places, strategies and objects.

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Alternative Instruments


Alternative Instruments was created for Exhibit Columbus, in Columbus, Indiana. The project was developed as part of the J. Irwin and Xenia S. Miller Prize awarded to Sam Jacob in 2022.

Alternative Instruments responds to the city of Columbus as a site, place, a history, but also as a fiction. It suggests how places and ideas are interconnected, drawing parallels between Columbus’ midcentury architecture, European Modernism, and utopian impulses of early American Settlements.

Thomas More coined the term “utopia” in his 1516 novel. This was a story of an island in the ‘New World’, told ironically in the manner of the accounts of European voyages. More’s imaginary “good place” is, even in its telling, intertwined with histories of expansionism and colonialism.

Located along a six-block stretch of Washington Street, Alternative Instruments used civic design to create new narratives that point towards the future.
Its design language drew on sources that echo the intertwined narratives of utopia and colonialism that forged Columbus, Indiana as a place.

Referencing Americana roadside signs, historic weathervanes, measuring chains used by the British to claim territory, navigation by the stars, the symbolism of sails and flags land surveying equipment, Shaker symbolism as well as elements representing Columbus’ mid-century social ambition as realised through art and design including Robert Venturi’s Columbus fire station, Henry Moore’s Large Arch, and Alexander Girard’s graphic design as well as the engines produced by the Cummins, the multinational engine corporation headquartered in Columbus, founded by William Glanton Irwin that provided the wealth invested in the city’s cultural and architectural programme.

Materially, it combined quilts recalling vernacular craft, main-street nostalgic neon, and engineering inspired metalwork.

The pieces incorporated phrases from Thomas More’s Utopia written in the alphabet that More’s invented for his fictional island. “No Unequal Distribution” “Ease the Miseries of Others”, “Free from Trouble and Anxiety” and “Make As Little Wrong As Possible”

The project was part of the larger Exhibit Columbus event curated by Iker Gil and Mimi Zieger.