Humankind is facing an unprecedented challenge. “…as a result of high population densities, the rapid rise in per capita energy and material consumption, and the growing dependence on trade (all of which are facilitated by technology), the ecological locations of human settlements no longer coincide with their geographic locations. Modern cities and industrial regions are dependent for survival and growth on a vast and increasing global hinterland of ecologically productive landscapes” – Mathis Wackernagel & William Rees (1998:29). The scale of current global waste generation is prolific and increasingly impossible to ignore.
The innocuous nature of individual items of waste disposed of in isolation – one’s daily takeaway coffee or bottled water – is erased when observing the scale of the resultant landscapes of waste that are being produced daily. The way we shop, consume and discard has severe impacts on our environment and quality of life. There are not enough landfills to serve the excessive detritus of mass production and consumption and the effects on the wider landscape are increasingly being described as hostile. In Jennifer Baichwal’s 2006 documentary, Manufactured Landscapes, the photographs of Edward Burtynsky capture the monumentality of these consumed and discarded spaces, spaces outside of our normal experiences that materially construct our daily realities – the mines, the dumps, the oil fields and recycling centres.
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As stated by Burtynsky on his website, “Our dependence on nature to provide the materials for our consumption and our concern for the health of our planet sets us into an uneasy contradiction.” (Burtynsky 2018).The contemporary landscape is oversaturated with discarded artefacts of modernity. This is the statement made by Dutch Architect Rem Koolhaas in his essays Junkspace and The Generic City (2002; 1998).
Koolhaas concludes that Junkspace and Generic Space are both products of consumerism, throw-away-spaces inhabited not by people but by brands. They possess neither origin nor history, only the proliferation of an architecture without form. This proliferation is evident in the vast, obscene typologies that we see in our cities today, the shopping centre, the airports, mega-hotel lobbies, bank offices and television studios (Koolhaas 2002:176-177). These spaces are not only wasteful in and of themselves, but spaces that become complicit in fuelling consumer practices that continually produce waste. It is within these spaces of the global consumerist city that I ask: What is the role of architecture in transforming waste culture? This inquiry of forces at play, modalities of production and consumption, and throw-away culture is set between Johannesburg and Durban. These cities mark two points within a connected field of exchange and where production and consumption can be observed and named. In this project the airport, the train station and the harbour are chosen versions of the port typology – where commodities shift and value is exchanged and from which the proliferation of waste stems.
These typologies also exist in the Generic City as described by Koolhaas. My Major Design Project proposes to invert our relationship to waste in society and within the architectural profession. The ever-increasing speed of production and consumption of the global market necessitates innovation in terms of waste management, waste recycling and waste ownership. The proposed project escapes the typical antagonistic stance on waste and industry by exploring a counter position to the binary of producer and consumer. By not drawing a clear line between these two positions, a space is created where the fluid territory between can be explored. By approaching the issue of waste landscapes as a design challenge as opposed to an economic, moral or political challenge, the opportunity to offer alternative responses and typologies concerning waste is made available. The Major Design Project exists in the form of an exposition, a large public exhibition focused on speculating on future waste landscapes.
I draw on the annual Serpentine Gallery Pavilion in Hyde Park, London, and the architecture park at the VITRA campus in Germany as built precedents to inform the development of the ‘expo’. This forum provides the opportunity to construct in order to speculate what waste as a resource means to architecture & society in a both a precise and conceptual manner. The conventional characteristics of building, being shelter and utility, become secondary to the ideas tested in order to demonstrate and inform societal views around waste through the making of architecture. In this way, the architecture is conceived of as an ecosystem incorporating industry, trade and people. It is the intention of the project to act as a testing ground to demonstrate the possibilities of spatial experimentation and open-ended appropriation of waste-as-material to illuminate understandings, showcase innovation, promote progress and foster cooperation in the making of architecture.