Narrowing the Question Pt. 02 - Fetishizing Waste as a Product


The 2016 Venice Biennale, curated by 2015 Pritzker prize winner Alejandro Aravena, is supposed to ask the tough questions about the role of architects in solving the myriad of issues facing the profession. This includes addressing inequality, sustainability, etc, etc, and, of course, waste. Prompting the discussion is this think piece on by Rowan Moore for The Guardian.

Contained within is a rather scathing critique on the role of architects and sustainability that says all of the things that architects themselves are afraid to articulate. Professionally there is a vast disconnect between how architects market themselves professionally, and the ultimate results of their work


If “humanitarian architecture” sometimes turns out not to be humanitarian, it is not always architecture either. In the urge to do good, or to be seen to do good, architects can forget their skills of making spaces and buildings that are desirable to inhabit.


In the rush to be seen doing good, does architecture tend to miss the point? Ostensibly, yes. Many projects focused on addressing waste in architecture treat the waste symbolically instead of attempting actually address waste in architecture. When waste is treated as but a symbol to add meaning to the project, surely it then becomes ornamentation.


Right now, architecture is in a position to deal with waste, but even luminaries like Aravena seem to be fetishizing the expression of waste, and not doing anything to solve. When a building is characterized materially by its expression of waste, people will not see it as a building to inhabit, but as a very large, interactive trash sculpture. While a trash sculpture might be perfect for an architecture expo, it does not lend itself much to functional architecture. Indeed, it seems pretty difficult, as well as counterproductive to force a trash sculpture into social change. If trash is a building material, where are the trash homes, trash offices and trash train stations? Exactly. Architecture that expresses its materiality in the form of trash seems exactly like the architecture that puts style over experience.

Perhaps more pertinent to the issues regarding waste and architecture are the ones that do not present themselves as such.