As a monument to the layers of history, artist Hans Haacke proposes an archaeological dig to reveal multiple hidden foundations under a single vacant lot. Haacke, who studied at Temple University’s Tyler School of Art in 1961–62 on a Fulbright Fellowship, returned last year to Philadelphia and encountered numerous empty spaces where buildings once stood. Haacke, who works with monumental sculptures and installations, sought a monument that already exists beneath the surface. He requested a site for an archaeological dig in which buried building foundations, intact underground, could be brought upward for public viewing. In cooperation with the People’s Emergency Center and property owners Alvin and Sheila Bunch, the triangular lot on 42nd Street and Lancaster Avenue is now a site for excavation and interpretation. This single vacant lot once held seven properties, until an automobile crashed into one of the buildings in the late 1990s, causing the owner to demolish the remaining structures. Haacke’s monument imagines the former buildings under vacant lots as not just buried and gone, but as the basis for a living blueprint to link the past and present of the city. The dig will begin at the opening of Monument Lab and evolve in a process of discovery through the exhibition.


Location: Special Project: Lancaster Avenue

This special project will evolve after the dig begins in early September. Its scope will be fully determined after exploration of what is discovered under the surface of the lot.





Digging (Archaeology of the Vacant Lot) Collaborators

Doug Mooney, AECOM, Alvin and Sheila Bunch, and James Wright

Site Partners

The City of Philadelphia, Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell’s Office, and the People’s Emergency Center

Project Manager

Maya Thomas



Artist Statement

The empty triangular lot bounded by Lancaster Avenue, Brown Street, and North 42nd Street in West Philadelphia is to be the site of an archeological excavation.

By cautiously taking off the weed-covered top layer of the lot, the truncated walls of the three-story houses that once existed on the triangle are to be revealed.

The history of each house is to be researched, dating from the original ownership of the land to the present. To be collected are the names, occupations, and sociologically relevant information about the owners of the properties, the circumstances under which they changed ownership (date, price, mortgages, mortgagees, foreclosures), when they became vacant, as well as personal stories and reminiscences by and about the people who lived there. This information, together with an image of each house, is to be posted on or near the site.

City records, newspapers or neighborhood publications, archives of civic and religious organizations and institutions, as well as memories and personal records from still-living members of the local community are to be explored. In this effort, the participation by people from the neighborhood is to be sought and welcomed.

Possibly, during the excavation, discoveries will be made or ideas will be generated that suggest adjustments in the course of action.

At the time of the inauguration of the citywide Monument Lab project, perhaps only a fraction of relevant information on the site will have been collected. It is to be continued throughout the duration of the project, and beyond. It is a work-in-progress.



Grass Grows, 1967-69. Courtesy of the artist.

About the Artist

Hans Haacke, born 1936 in Cologne, Germany. Lives in New York since 1965. Taught from 1967 to 2002 at The Cooper Union. Personal exhibitions at Museum Haus Lange, Krefeld; Museum of Modern Art, Oxford; Stedelijk Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven; Renaissance Society, Chicago; Tate Gallery, London; New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York; Centre Pompidou, Paris; Venice Biennale; Fundació Antoni Tàpies, Barcelona; Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam; Portikus, Frankfurt; Serpentine Gallery, London; Generali Foundation, Vienna; Deichtorhallen Hamburg and Akademie der Künste, Berlin, 2006; Museo nacional centro de arte Reina Sofía, Madrid; 4th Plinth, Trafalgar Square, London, 2015. 

Works included in 4 Documentas, the Biennials of Venice, São Paulo, Sydney, Tokyo, Johannesburg, Gwangju, Sharjah, Mercosul, and the Whitney Biennial, New York. Shared with Nam June Paik Golden Lion for German Pavilion at Venice Biennial 1993.


Banner: Digging (Archaeology of the Vacant Lot), Hans Haacke, Brainpower. Special Project – 42nd Street and Lancaster Avenue.