“Reflection is also part of architecture”

Amal Habti (pictured left) is a designer and final year architecture student at the Rotterdam Academy of Architecture (RAvB) at the Hogeschool Rotterdam. She won her project broken relationship Iktonos Prize 2022. “What surprised me was the extent of the invisible waste”

In Nauerna, near Assendelft and near Amsterdam, there is a garbage dump. The task of the Dutch Mountains studio was to research this and present an essay on film and spatial design. I also had complete freedom to do whatever I wanted. The assignment was handed to me and I noticed that I knew very little about waste handling and its volume. While you might think a designer knows how something like this works. I wondered, why didn’t I know this, this was the beginning of my research.

What immediately struck me is how invisible the waste is. 29 percent is exported, and the rest is incinerated in waste incinerators. The remaining bottom ash is processed, for example, on highways or included in waste piles. This mountain of waste in Assendelft is actually very abstract: when the black bottom ash has just been dumped, it looks kind of like the surface of the moon. The waste residue is covered from above and below with a lining, which is a kind of thick tarpaulin. And on top of that comes the living layer, a meter of soil and sometimes some trees. It is a very green area and looks like normal nature. Very strange sensation there is no longer anything to do with waste. That’s why it’s called my project broken relationship.

“There is no longer any relationship with waste.”

When the waste is disposed of in a tidy manner, it seems that you do not have to worry much about it. aOut of sight, out of mind, but in this way the consequences of consumption are also easily forgotten. And there are those consequences. For example, part of the waste that is exported goes to third world countries, where it often ends up in oceans and rivers. I found that very difficult.

That’s why I couldn’t separate this mountain of waste from the consumer society. To make the relationship visible, I calculated the amount of waste a neighborhood in New Sloten, west of Amsterdam, produced in one year. I imagined this mountain of waste as a kind of pyramid rising above the county, then suddenly facing the vision.

What constitutes waste is also a philosophical question. Something that is consumed in our eyes does not necessarily have to be. I think this is the biggest problem as well, for example we only use plastic cups once and take that for granted. That’s why I also started analyzing what’s in bottom ash, the substance that remains after waste is incinerated. In it you will find, for example, the remains of precious metals and minerals that are valuable in themselves. With the idea of ​​that broken relationship in mind, I was curious if people would buy it back. I put it in a bag with all the information about the contents and offered it again as a product.

“Of course, the thing that is consumed in our view should not be at all.”

So what I did didn’t really become a spatial architecture design, but that was also a point of criticism from the jury. But as far as I’m concerned, that’s also part of the architecture. It is about revealing such a system: the architecture that ensures that waste is completely hidden. This is part of our spatial design and I think you should also be able to think about it. This can be done with imagination, which I see as one of the greatest strengths of designers. This allows us to clarify things that may be very substantial. I also think we have a great responsibility in this matter. The debate about what architecture can be more than just creating buildings is also on the agenda right now within architecture.

What is my relationship to waste? Difficult also. I take my clothes to the thrift store and try to recycle a lot, but I don’t really succeed. Sometimes I do it very easily on plastic, sometimes I try to separate everything very precisely. I think a lot of people have this kind of relationship. I find the comfort we have here quite intense, which should be a little less. I lived in Morocco for a few years when I was a kid and since that time I remember people who have a few things and comfort can still enjoy a very nice life. If you look at the waste we produce, we should also be allowed to use less.

Text and image: Wietse Pottjewijd

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