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Re-Cycle Re-Use Re-Mix

December 2, 2011

Yesterday afternoon I stopped by the MAXXI to see the exhibit “Re-CYCLE Strategies for architecture, the city and the planet”.  The idea is a timely one, a show dedicated to a re-consideration of the waste our society produces. Most of the projects on display are architectural in nature, ranging from the reuse of buildings (new inserts in abandoned pigsties and farmhouses) and infrastructure (adaptation of a highway tunnel in Trento) to the use of recycled materials.  Ever since the 2006 Biennale and Ricky Burdett’s Endless City project, statistics denouncing urban inequities and catastrophes have been “hot” and this show makes use of them dramatically by painting data on the floor leading the way into the exhibit.  There was bitter irony in some of the statistics.  Sustainable mobility? (I had just been told by the guards that MAXXI has nowhere to lock bicycles) And the wastefulness of cement (MAXXI architect Zaha Hadid’s material of choice)? Even the slick MAXXI bar continues to use and discard disposable cups;  so much for “re-cycling.”

The stated intention of the exhibit is to establish a dialogue between two worlds, that of Architecture where recycling (whether it be materials, buildings, spaces, waste, or what have you) has an environmental objective, and that of Art where re-use (of Duchamp’s urinal or Warhol’s soup cans) carries meaning.  This notion of “middle ground”, neither/nor rather than either/or, is also a sign of our times and I think a healthy one.  Danish architect Bjarke Ingels, whose works are present in the show, writes of architecture being “entrenched between two equally unfertile fronts”, the utopian avante-garde and corporate realism, and his firm BIG “operates in the fertile ground between the two,”  practicing what he calls “utopian pragmatism.”  Landscape “gardener” Gilles Clemente advocates the “third landscape”, a ‘residue’ rich with biological potential between nature the landscape of man.  LO-TEK works in “slash and retool” architecture, a kind of industrial bricolage.  I learned a lot about these and other firms in what was, for me, one of the best parts of the exhibit:  the reading area where monographs and theoretical texts are available for consultation.

The most moving component of the exhibit, not to be missed, is the photographic exhibit by Pieter Hugo entitled “Permanent Error”.  This exposes the resting place of technological waste of the developed world, in places like the eerie polluted wasteland of Agbogbloshie in Ghana. If this is how our planet operates, Hugo says, it represents a kind of “system error” from which we would do well to “reboot”.

The exhibit reminded me of the (far more humble) panels I curated for the Cal Poly Rome Program last year at the Foreign Architects Rome exhibit at the Tempio di Adriano.  The goal of that workshop, co-taught with architect Cinzia Abbate,  was to create a sort of “Village of Alternative Consumerism,”  an urban resource center or a center for material reuse. From the project brief:

Cities produce waste and consume materials and energy, but this is not necessarily “by nature”. A well-functioning city in which inherent synergies and efficiencies are maximized by design can reduce this “waste” to close to zero. Products which today become broken or obsolete are discarded when they could be repaired, reused, regenerated or as a last resort see their component materials recycled. Traditionally such activities have often been marginalized, performed by outcasts in blighted parts of cities. Rome, however, has a tradition of productive workshops in its historical center, now being rapidly forced out of existence by global economics. In an emergent green economy this work will become more appreciated and more central to a mixed use urban ecology.

I’m excited that this approach to design, more about finding solutions to complex, systematic problems using existing resources than creating new forms out of new resources, is finally taking root.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Ted Mayeshiba permalink
    December 2, 2011 20:00


    Wholly agree. Best example I’ve seen is the Subaru Indiana America (SIA) which is a zero landfill plant. You throw away more per week than this plant (making Subarus and Camarys) throws away in a year.

    It’s an amazing place, and a tour which is worth taking.


  2. December 3, 2011 18:44

    It’s not only that MAXXI doesn’t have a bike parking but guards actually got very angry when they saw me and my friend going OUT of MAXXI’s garden with our bicycles. They asked how we got in, because apparently you can’t just park it in the garden like we did. I left my brompton in the wardrobe, and they were surprised but quiet friendly about foldable bikes.
    Occhio del Riciclone is a roman association focused on reusing and recycling. But probably you already know it.


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