The GARBA(R)GE project is a mobile facility created on an upcycled barge, that through the spectacularised act of upcycling, provides remote communities in Alaska with set of tools and knowledge about a circular economy approach to waste management. Moreover, its supplementary intention is to create an ephemeral act that provides fascination and entertainment for its users.
According to the World Bank report on waste management: What a Waste 2.0, the United States ranks first in waste production per capita. The project addresses UN 2030 sustainable goal 12 which states that by 2030, the waste reduction should be accomplished through prevention, reduction, recycling and reuse. What I have discovered to be 2 main driving forces of problems with managing waste in Alaska were: remoteness and low population of areas. Many factors, including filled-up landfills and recent plastic ban in 2018 from Chinese markets, doesn’t allow anymore recyclables and waste to be sent outside the state. All of that brought me to a conclusion that rethinking and investigate waste management in the state by introducing a circular economy approach is important. Doing so, would prolong capacity of regional landfills but also improve social awareness and sustainability inside the state.
The project is developed using the language of the architecture of performance, ephemerality and mobility (graphically, this way manifested through the use of colour, creating a code that identifies these design). By investigating an architecture of mobility, the design seeks to provide a wider discourse on economical waste management strategy in Alaska. Moreover, the project investigates whether an architecture of performance and fascination can facilitate engagement in upcycling strategies, and challenge the current paradigm of waste management. Those elements helped me designed desired spaces on the garba(r)ge: Upcycling Workshops on the Lower Deck that correspond with limited space on the barge and their flexibility allows to transform area according to visited community needs and repair or re-appropriate upcycled material for further use; mobileResource Storage in the Stern designed as a circular space allows to distribute stored goods across the facility but also create Market Space on the Upper Deck while barge is being moored; and lastly Living Quarters in the Galley that accomodate stuff helping maintaining the barge while is being on the move.
* The master thesis, GARBA(R)GE, was developed after a month long field trip to Alaska in November and December 2018 where the main idea and the architectural programme was created.
What prompted the project?
The ‘Architecture and Extreme Envionments’ programme at KADK, Copenhagen – within which this project was proposed – puts a big emphasis on thorough and targeted research alongside fieldwork done on-site at a designated place that becomes the physical context for the school year. Research took different forms. The Garba(r)ge project was initially prompted by a varied set of infographics; produced to get to know better the context, demographics, history, cultural aspects of Alaska – the broad location for the studio in 2018/2019. A fieldtrip to the US state in November/December 2018 further opened my eyes to challenges I had identified and problems the population were struggling with – significantly those of resource use and the implementation of a circular economy. Alaska’s vastness, remotnessness, overflowing landfills and challenges of recycling all put me on a path towards the Garba(r)ge.
What informed your interest in the master of architectures within extreme environments?
My approach to architecture is based on an attempt to understand as many of the component parts and factors at play as possible at the very beginning of a project. As a matter of fact, I perceive architecture as a multidisciplinary practice. In choosing the master course of ‘Architecture and Extreme Environments’ at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen, I was totally fascinated by the idea of a hyper on-site approach that combines technology, culture and environment. It challenges ‘desk based’ practices by promoting specific fieldwork research alongside making personal connections with local residents and stakeholders. It allows for the study of different architectural approaches to building technologies, cultural and historical contexts and apply that knowledge directly to the projects.
How, and to what extent, are sites as Alaska and Antarctica prototypes for further exploration into extreme environments beyond our planet?
I have experienced designing in the humid, sub-saharan region of Tanzania and in the cold-dry climate of Alaska and by studying these two completely different areas I gained a strong understanding for the importance of on-site research in the development of a fully relevant project. The opportunity to work in these distinct and diverse environments focuses your mind on the fundamental issues and the characteristics of the specific context. So, in that way, it helps channel one’s thinking to develop methods of working that may be applicable or appropriate to extra-terrestrial environments – especially if these locations demonstrate some otherworldly characteristics, such as Antarctica or Alaska. I know that the Antarctic has been crucial for studying future inhabitation beyond our planet. It’s vastness, lack of daylight for half the year and stressfully remote environment makes it perfect to test prototypes for new emerging technologies, life support systems, renewable energy systems etc.
Could you expand on the research undertaken to acquaint yourself with and start dissecting the topic?
The Garba(r)ge, although intended to be positioned firmly in the speculative spectrum of architecture, consists of many topics that are very pragmatic and relevant within the current paradigm of designing. The main research was undertaken on waste management, inspired by a ‘circular economy’ approach. It was important for me to have a comprehensive understanding of the global issues but also to narrow it down to a singular state of Alaska and finally to specific communities in that state to identify a research gap the project would address. This took the form of inquiries and conversations on-site during visits to waste management facilities in Alaska as well as investigating the WorldBank’s ‘What a Waste 2.0, History of Stuff’ report, which illustrates, among other things, USA’s waste management systems and suggests different proposals and practices from around the world combat waste and promote recycling. Moreover, the project – in order to facilitate a clearer and more eloquent understanding and narrative, as well as to introduce a framework upon which to base key design decisions – was split into three strategies, namely; mobility, ephemerality and the performance. For me, it was important to identify different strategies that would give guidance in the development of the project. For example, ‘mobility’ forced me to look into the pragmatism of a mobile/floating architecture, whilst ‘ephemerality’ was concerned with the psychological aspects of temporary architectural installations and their relation to the users and the history of ‘performance’ led to a referencing of relevant works, such as that of Ant Farm.
How pivotal were the visions and writings of archigram in shaping your proposal?
The visions of Archigram were mostly pivotal during the early stages of the project’s development. It helped to formulate the main idea behind the Garba(r)ge and to enhance the idea for the facility from the perspective of a singular community in Alaska. Archigram states in their projects that “Architecture does not have to be a construction and can be simply an event an action in the present.” For me, this thinking is clearly visible in Instant City from 1969 where the designed structures are superimposed upon the existing context, altering the fabric of that reality and then depart, leaving some traces of that event behind. It is not a permanent solution. The same goes for Garba(r)ge. Although it is, itself, a permanent functioning upcycling facility that travels between rural communities in Alaska, from the perspective of its users; it is an ephemeral act that allows people to recycle the waste from their village, repair broken furniture, gain knowledge about a circular economy approach, take advantage of leisure attractions available onboard the recycled barge. Moreover the ephemerality of the facility enhances the fascination of the facility itself.
How are these still relevant today in contexts which are very diverse from those within which these ideas were conceived?
Archigram’s visions, indeed, were created in the 1960s as an answer to new emerging technologies that showed futuristic ideas for new approaches to architecture. In my opinion, although they were created more than half a century ago, they still are extremely relevant. What I, as an architect looking back at the collective’s work, find most exciting is the boldness and innovation in their ideas and a truly flexible approach to architecture: the buildings themselves need to answer people’s needs but also change and adapt to them over time. Lastly, their graphic representation and use of colour was incredibly inspirational to me – something I would argue many modern proposals lack.
To what extent can these visionary ideas tested within remote and extreme environments act as testing ground to challenge the way we also inhabit our ever sprawling metropolis?
The interesting thing is to apply specific contextuality and to consider defined environmental conditions within the realm of a provocative and polemical architecture project. As student architecture projects are almost always, by their very nature, speculative, they can only go so far in challenging the ways we inhabit the city. That being said, they can offer up new ideas that can provoke conversations around topics such as flexibility, movement and ephemerality, in opposition to an acceptance of the status quo. The context of the extreme environment merely acts as a grounding point from which we can approach these questions in a more focused manner.
What role should we as architects play within the discourse of waste management?
Architecture, in my opinion, is a multidisciplinary practice – as many professions can, and should, feed into the production of architecture, so should architects concern themselves with the many facets of humanity and human life. It goes without saying, therefore, that I would argue architects have a lot to say around discourses of waste management and have a responsibility to investigate what they could do in addressing these issues. The rapid urban growth for the last half century has perpetuated a series of problems that have contributed in many ways to climate change whilst drastically reducing the resources available to humans. One thing is to propose designs that promote circular economy thinking – thinking that not only addresses the matter of resource scarcity and pollution, but also improves waste management strategies. Another is in the design of waste management facilities themselves. As for now, the majority of functional factories are completely disconnected from most urban networks and from the general public. As in agenda for the 2010 Architecture Bienale: ‘architecture should be a mirror of collective awareness in a rapidly changing society.’ In designing such waste plants, architecture should not be disentangled from social and economic aspects. In that sense it should be used as an educational and informative instrument to communicate the importance of the work that’s going on to society as a whole. Examples of this hybrid design can be seen in the work of Lendager Group and sons of BIG’s projects in Denmark, but also John Hardy’s practice.
What is for you the architect's most important tool?
Looking back at my education and work in Denmark, the most important tool for me is the ability to strike a life-work balance when I practise architecture. As a person who has struggled recently with stress, a peaceful mind has been essential to enable me to work hard, be creative, curious and develop research skills that I strongly believe in and are part of my everyday designing.
Alicja Szczesniak (Gdansk, 1993), is an Copenhagen based Architect MAA that graduated from Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts with specialization in Architecture and Extreme Environments in May 2019. Her approach to architecture is site-specific, with a focus on research and a clear understanding of the distinct cultural and societal contexts in which she is working. She is passionate about the way resources can be reused creatively and economically in order to develop environmentally conscious projects that are both relevant and engaging.
She have a diverse, international set of experiences working on small projects in Poland and competitions for social housing in Denmark. Moreover, recently she broadened her architectural practice developing projects in sub-saharan climate of Tanzania and in cold and dry climate of Alaska.