One funny thing about working alone is that I don't get many opportunities to tell someone that they are doing a good job. I still get to complement a job well done from afar, and I attempt to do that here regularly, but really the only people whose efforts I cheerlead directly are my kids. This is, it strikes me now, one of the primary reasons why I wanted to hold an umarelling competition in the first place. Il Campionato Mondiale di Umari will never make me rich, and it's unlikely to make this newsletter famous. But it allows me to sit down this morning and point out some work that I think is superlative, and which our compassionate and acute judges thought was superlative too.

As a reminder: Il Campionato Mondiale di Umari encouraged participants from around the world to seek out a construction site, and to find time to observe it, and to put their observations onto paper. We accepted entries in three categories: Notes, sketches, and open text, and we received a compelling collection of entries, which our judges discussed last week on a video call. I was delighted to observe their deliberations, and it is my distinct pleasure to announce the winners to you now; honorable mentions will be highlighted over the coming week.


Part of the art of notetaking is finding ways to infuse personality and spirit into a form which is meant to be plain, direct, and assembled in the moment. Caleb Fristoe's entry, which presents highly specific details in a pair of dry, compact lists, does this excellently:

May, 24th 2024

- 5:02 AM
- Across the street, muffled yells drift out into the morning
- New “help” is at the flip house: $30 hr guy
- I stand and spy at the window as he limps out the front door, swinging his left leg in an arc, as though reinforced with rebar—straight all the way down
- He sits and smokes in his 2008 Dodge Ram until 6:15 AM when “the twins” arrive
- Their truck is full of trash, buckets, and various tools; $15hr guys
- City records name 4 Horsemen Realty as the home's new owners
- The only horseman I’ve seen stops by once a week in a brand new Tahoe, outfitted with custom rims and a slight, tasteful lift. We affectionately call him pestilence. He arrives promptly at 7:30 AM and departs at 7:40 AM.

Work Accomplished

- A door is spray painted in the grass sans drop cloth; “goddamnit, the grass…”
- Smoke break
- Trash is collected from a decaying shed; a grill is discovered and haggled over
- Smoke break
- Post Malone on a DeWalt DCR010 - 3hrs
- Electric crew arrives: logo trucks, uniforms; work completed in 45 mins, no talking, only the exchange of a completion order to one of the twins, who tosses it on the porch
- 1.5hr lunch
- A miter saw appears, making three cuts
- Clean-up begins at 3 PM
- The site is empty by 4:03 PM
- The project has been ongoing for four months with no sign of completion in sight

As Judge Henry Grabar noted, it is "almost a pure act of observation." Judge Geoff Manaugh complimented its anthropological specificity, calling out the choice of musical artist, speaker model, and play time as details that, as Judge Mike Newman added, establish a strong sense of place in a very compact format. The jobsite under observation feels distinctly interminable, even though the notes themselves come to only two hundred and forty-eight words.


Sketching allows an umarell to quiet their thoughts and simply observe. A sketch can be intimate without straying into judgement, and it demands of the sketchmaker that they consider their vantage point carefully. Mark Selander's entry accomplished this excellently, showing both the construction site and the place from which it could be seen:

Mark Selander's winning entry in the Sketch category.

Judge Drew Austin noted the way that it highlighted the umarell's perspective, and the extent to which that perspective enhances the work. Mark reported that the machine in question was a Liebherr 1300 mobile crane, and that he nearly fell off a precariously-placed stool while attempting to sketch it.


The open text category, which encouraged participants to "focus on artistry more than fidelity," received the most entries in this year's Campionato. Reading through this category's entries was often quite emotional, and Hannah Hazi's entry, which won the category, was no exception:

My landlord’s reconfiguring
His house, the empty one next door,
I watch the work while I wash up
A steady sequence to transform
The place. The seasons shift but he’s
Still at it, spending weekends here.
A skip he hired, a caulking gun,
No tradesmen. Only him, his son,
The lad’s a teen, perhaps it helps
Them bond to rip the kitchen out,
To move the bathroom and regrout.
His skip was full of plasterboard
Hauled off, and still the work goes on.
It isn’t just a job to him
To gut this place, his childhood home,
He told me once his aim is clear:
Erase all trace of former lives
Remove himself, ‘depersonalize’.
And only then, he’ll rent it out.
I’m not sure what that takes but he’s
Replastering now, the walls stripped bare.
Another skip comes Friday. I’ll
Be there to watch him fill it up
With his mum’s disassembled life
I wonder when he’ll judge it done.
I sit and wait, admire how much
He cares. Return a smile to his son.

Judge Ian Coss praised the way that it unfolds, revealing midway that this was a childhood home being gutted. Judge Drew Austin appreciated its depiction of a highly personal place being depersonalized, wiped clean, and put on the market. Judge Mike Newman noted its melancholy, which is somewhat softened by its subtly rhyming verse.

I was glad not to be a judge in this year's Campionato; it was enough for me to read the entries and observe the judging process. Towards the end of our conversation, the judges stepped back a bit and talked more broadly about the activity at hand and how this year's entries exposed and exploited its finer points. Judge Drew Austin pointed out that many entries showed just how little technical knowledge was required to appreciate a construction site; an umarell can be intuitively interested in construction without having a detailed understanding of what's going on at any given moment. Judge Mike Newman concurred, noting that we observe construction in many ways, from their sights, to their sounds, to the complex ways that they might change our communities and ecologies in the future. The Campionato's entries reflected this, ranging from technical to interior and emotional. Judge Ian Coss noted that "like a lot of things, a construction site is like a mirror that we hold to ourselves, becoming a canvas upon which our lives play out." Judge Henry Grabar added that "in the entries we discussed, there was sometimes a hint that the observer has technical knowledge," but that the more salient aspect of the Campionato's entries was their emotional core. "There's something worth watching here," Judge Geoff Manaugh said, and it has less to do with the tools being used at a construction site and more to do with a future version of the world coming into view.

While this year's Campionato is now closed, I will continue to ruminate and reflect upon its results. Reading the Campionato's entries was transfixing, and intimate, and not at all a vicarious activity. They conveyed respect and high regard, recognizing not only the physical and metal labor involved in construction but also the way that construction can embody nuance, and pain, and hope. I look forward to repeating the Campionato, and encourage you to keep your infrastructural reflection sharp in preparation.

Scope of Work is supported by our awesome Members, and through support from:

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Thanks as always to Scope of Work’s Members and Supporters for making this newsletter possible. A big thanks to the judges of this year's Campionato, and to everyone who made a submission into it; you all did truly excellent work.

Love, Spencer.

Spencer Wright
Spencer Wright
Spencer Wright is the (mostly accidental) founder of Scope of Work, which he started writing (as The Prepared) in 2013. Today he serves as its editor-in-chief and chief dilettante.
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