Dirty Work


  • Michael Hirschbichler Delft University of Technology




Dirt, dirty work, fieldwork, worldmaking, matter, impurity, place, environment, debris, phantoms, bricolage, remix, oil, oil field, painting


There is a tradition in architecture and art – proclaimed by Leon Battista Alberti, Adolf Loos and others – to refrain from dirt. According to such an understanding, architectural and creative thinking and making are conceived as an intellectual and pure endeavor. Dirt, impurity, contamination are, however, inevitable when firmly grounding architecture and other ways of worldmaking in our complex reality. I therefore advocate “dirty work” as a modus operandi that is more suitable for the enormous challenges that we are facing. Dirty work demands active material and bodily engagements with places and environments instead of idealizations and abstractions from a distance. It relies on fieldwork as a practice of working in, with and through the field, its materiality and the immaterial relations that it is made up of.

Author Biography

Michael Hirschbichler, Delft University of Technology

Michael Hirschbichler works on the threshold of art, architecture and anthropology. Moving between research and its speculative transformation and employing a wide range of media, he explores how cultural, social, political, religious and scientific narratives, mythologies and ideologies materialize and shape the spaces we live in. Michael was a lecturer at ETH Zurich and HSLU Lucerne, the director of the Architecture Program at the Papua New Guinea University of Technology, a visiting professor at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna and is currently a postdoctoral researcher at TU Delft, Goldsmiths and Aarhus University. Moreover, Michael was an artist-in-residence at the German Academy Villa Massimo in Rome, YARAT Contemporary Art Space in Baku, the Cité internationale des arts in Paris, Binz39 Foundation in Zurich, Villa Kamogawa (Goethe Institut) in Kyoto and SACO (Goethe Institut and Institut Français) in Antofagasta. His work has been shown, among others, at Martin-Gropius-Bau (Berlin), artQ13 (Rome), Kunstverein Ingolstadt, House of Architecture HDA (Graz), Helmhaus (Zurich) and Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg.


Mary Douglas, Purity and Danger. An analysis of the concepts of pollution and taboo, London/New York, 1966.

Richard Fardon, ‘Purity as danger: “Purity and Danger revisited” at fifty’, in: Robbie Duschinsky, Simone Schnall, Daniel H. Weiss (eds.), Purity and Danger Now: New Perspectives, London/New York, 2016, pp. 23-33.

Michael Hirschbichler, ‘Drecksarbeit / Dirty Work’, Review Summer 2022 – IKA, Academy of Fine Arts Vienna, (2022), p. 20.

Adolf Loos, ‘Plumbers’, in: Nadir Lahiji, D.S. Friedman (eds.), Plumbing: Sounding Modern Architecture, 1997, pp. 15-20.