8 March 2019. Besides amazing gorges with streams of virgin water cascading through this particular city, there are also the global flows of trash running through; equally conspicuous runlets of plastic, cardboard, glass and other unidentifiable composite wrapped up stuff, trickling down the sidewalks or dressing the winter shrubbery.

The wasted stuff. Besides all the invisible dissolved and fumed garbage satiating the atmosphere, there is all this useless, drifting matter. While facing the planetary fact that other flows are about to run dry, what can you do? What can we do? What can designers do, as acting custodians of stuff?

These questions were asked in a symposium at the Cornell School of Architecture last week. There are architects and designers out there, facing the challenge, not only giving waste due attention, but trying to make use of it in constructive ways. The symposium came out of courses at Cornell and Harvard and explored the design incentives for a circular economy. With the building sector being somewhat of an environmental black sheep. producing an enormous amount of rubble, the symposium included presentations by architects who have taken on the challenge of changing this image. As for example Peter Van Assche, who like a Lewis Carroll of our times wants to change the logic and dislocate the parameters, in order to show that down the drain, the waste can still transform into “colourful beautiful stuff.” Or the Belgian Rotor architects, who launched the off-spin Rotor Deconstruction in order to take command of the material recycling of old buildings.

While up-cycling of plastic waste, systems shift for waste collection, or a ban on planned obsolescence are all necessary measures, the lingering question that remained largely untouched was the surplus logic behind the messy flows and the paradoxical addiction that these flows have created. For while it is possible to abandon the commodity logic and completely servitize architecture and design; while it is necessary to reeducate starchitects and fancy designers into assemblers-dissemblers, the question remains how to break the dependency, how stop the profitable growth of trash flows, and how to avoid developing new, diverting manoeuvres, no matter how colourful and beautiful.

There are, however, straightforward un-architectural answers.

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