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Entombed in the Landscape: Waste with Assistant Professor Catherine De Almeida

Published on February 4, 2022

The Blue Lagoon in Iceland is a result of repurposed geothermal waste from a nearby geothermal power plant. Photo by Catherine De Almeida

Assistant Professor of Landscape Architecture Catherine De Almeida remembers picking up trash on the playground, seeing people throw trash out their car window, and noticing trash flying around while she played outside as a child. The presence of litter in landscapes upset her so much that she would spend her elementary school recesses picking up trash.

When she got into the field of architecture, De Almeida found herself drawn to how things could be flexible and take on multiple identities – in other words, do more than one thing for more than one person. Her first exploration of this was during her architectural education when she did a project on urban housing. As an architecture student in New York City, De Almeida thought a lot about small spaces and how walls are spaces that can serve more purposes than we might typically think. She took this way of thinking further in her furniture design class, taking interest in transformational furniture — furniture that can change shape, size, or function.

Going on to graduate school for landscape architecture, De Almeida continued this interest and applied it to materials: looking at materials that are made from recycled content, can biodegrade, have an extended life, or no end of life. Her early studies informed the way she continues to think about design and in looking for different ways to engage with our waste “problem”. From her perspective, waste itself is not the problem, it is relationships to it – what we produce, how we manage and perceive it – that is the issue, causing current water, food, climate, and ecological crises.

De Almeida asks important questions: why is waste created; why is it removed so quickly; and why is it easier and cheaper to buy something new rather than repair it?

De Almeida writes in her forthcoming articleSharing Waste: From Undesirable Conditions to Collective Opportunities, that “[our] shared cultural [mis]perceptions of waste have become embedded in certain design approaches, driving unconscious aesthetic decisions to fix and hide waste rather than engage with it.”

De Almeida refers to her design-research framework as “landscape lifecycles.” Her framework applies a “material lifecycles” lens to the inventory, analysis, and design of the places where we store our waste. De Almeida sees waste as the common denominator in everything and every place, and because of this, is also able to see and communicate about the interrelatedness of things, places, and activities that are typically seen as being separate. She uses this framework to investigate the performance, visibility, citizenships, emotions, and injustices of waste materials and landscapes that are leftover from socio-economic, urban, and industrial processes. De Almeida has found that this approach broadens typical definitions of inputs and outputs in lifecycle assessments to include the human, more-than-human, and perceptual and spatial dimensions of waste.

Continue reading at College of Built Environments

Originally written by Jamilah Williams for the College of Built Environments
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