EPISODE 13: GIVEN CONDITIONS
There’s a chance your gold earrings were mined by someone in AD 100. For ages, tons of gold have regularly been excavated and added to the global pool, constantly being melted and reshaped into coins, watches, rings, and bars. But for the first time in human history, gold is leaving the supply loop: People are burying hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth in landfills because it’s easier to dispose of smartphones than deconstruct them for the 30mg of gold they each contain.
It’s not limited to smartphones—entire buildings are being buried with valuables inside. The most recent report by the US Environmental Protection Agency suggests that the volume of building construction and demolition debris dumped in landfills was six times more than the volume of fresh concrete poured, with 90% coming from demolition, surpassing all other forms of waste. As many have said, the most sustainable building is the one that is already built. Our ability to divert material from the landfill, avoid demolition, and create processes for reuse is one of the most environmentally just values designers and clients should embody.
80% of the buildings that exist now will still exist in 2050. As the built environment contributes almost half of global greenhouse gases, our approach to these given conditions will strongly impact whether we meets any of our established climate goals. What kind of possibilities arise when designers reorient their practice, pedagogy, and mindset to focus on materials that are already there?
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Charlotte Malterre-Barthes is an architect, urban designer, and assistant professor of Architectural and Urban Design at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (EPFL). Formerly an assistant professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, Malterre-Barthes’s interests are related to urgent aspects of contemporary urbanization, material extraction, and climate emergency, and how struggling communities can gain greater access to resources, better governance, and ecological/social justice. In 2021 she started the initiative A Global Moratorium on New Construction, interrogating current protocols of development. Malterre-Barthes has earned a doctoral degree from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, focusing on the political economy of commodities on the built environment, while directing the Institute’s MAS Urban Design program. She is the co-author of the prizewinning books Migrant Marseille: Architectures of Social Segregation and Urban Inclusivity (2020), Some Haunted Spaces in Singapore (2018), and Housing Cairo: The Informal Response (2016), among others. Malterre-Barthes is a founding member of the Parity Group and of the Parity Front, activist networks dedicated to improving gender equality and diversity in architecture.
Keller Easterling is a designer, writer, and the Enid Storm Dwyer Professor of Architecture at Yale. Her books include Medium Design (2021), Extrastatecraft: The Power of Infrastructure Space (2014), Subtraction (2014), Enduring Innocence: Global Architecture and Its Political Masquerades (2005), and Organization Space: Landscapes, Highways and Houses in America (1999). Easterling is also the co-author (with Richard Prelinger) of Call It Home, a laserdisc/DVD history of US suburbia from 1934 to 1960. Easterling lectures and exhibits internationally. Her research and writing was included in the 2014 and 2018 Venice Biennales. Easterling is a 2019 United States Artist in Architecture and Design.
Jay Sae Jung Oh is a South Korean–born, Seattle-based artist and designer. She is known for her sustainable and environmentally friendly recycled-plastic and leather-cord furniture works, notably her Salvage Chair series made with everyday objects intricately hand-wrapped in raw leather, creating a unified a sculptural design object. Oh has shown works internationally at the Chatsworth House in the UK, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), and Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, in New York. Her works are included in the collections of SFMOMA, the Carnegie Museum of Art, and Cranbrook Art Museum. She is the founder and designer behind the pet brand Boo Oh.
Lindsey Wikstrom is the cofounding principal of Mattaforma, a design and research practice, and an adjunct assistant professor at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation. Her Core I architecture studio explores the generative potential of material sourcing, commons, and renewability, while her Advanced IV studio focuses on the architectural and urban implications of biodiverse mass timber. Her research has been supported by the SOM Foundation, published in Embodied Energy and Design: Making Architecture between Metrics and Narratives, and exhibited at the XXII Triennale di Milano, Broken Nature: Design Takes on Human Survival. Wikstrom recently published an essay in Cite and has a book project with Routledge.
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This session will be led virtually through Zoom, a free video-conferencing software. Participants are encouraged to use a computer, smart phone, or tablet with a camera and Internet access, if possible. Participants may also dial in using a phone line. Participants will receive a Zoom link upon registering.
This event was made possible through a generous gift from Emilio Ambasz. The Emilio Ambasz Institute for the Joint Study of the Built and the Natural Environment is a platform for fostering dialogue, promoting conversation, and facilitating research about the relationship between the built and natural environment, with the aim of making the interaction between architecture and ecology visible and accessible to the wider public while highlighting the urgent need for an ecological recalibration.