City of Disassembly
Georine Pierre @ California College of the Arts, Master of Architecture- Thesis Studio
Our contemporary capitalist world is composed of distributed territories of production, consumption, and waste. Sites of consumption dominate first-world cities, while sites of production and waste are increasingly offshored to the developing world. This thesis asks: What is architecture’s capacity to intervene in such mechanisms, re-integrating these disparate streams into a closed system, a “factory without a factory”? By exploiting the potential links between domestic and industrial processes, could new qualities of life arise in an industrial machine-city, in which production, consumption and waste activities are co-mingled?
The thesis offers a potential site of experimentation within the communities and informal settlements that have emerged within e-waste dump sites in developing countries—specifically, Agbogbloshie, an e-waste recovery district near Accra, Ghana. By examining landscapes formed from e-waste disposal, the project provides new extraction and disassembly-based templates for architecture and urbanism that aim for a symbiosis of economic, political, and social systems.
What prompted the project?
The project generated through my overall interest in the e-waste disposal site in Agbogbloshie. I have been researching the complex landscape for over two years prior to pursuing the thesis project.
About 10 years ago, Agbogbloshie became a dumpsite for illegal e-waste from industrialized countries among the United States, Europe, China and India. Over time, there has been an informal economy that has emerged— where a dependency is rooted among the local residents. The communities, informal settlements, and maker’s ecosystem that have generated have yet to be designed and planned for.
The overall impact of globalization and technological distribution relative to ecological urgency and cultural awareness resonated with my interests as a designer. The initial motive of the project was to touch base with these themes, while bringing a larger awareness of the issue at hand. Rather than proposing an immediate solution, the proposal utilizes architectural representation to envision a narrative that is in dialogue with a more self-sustaining, closed-system city.
How important was the initial research in the building up of your argument and the in the development of the project itself?
The initial research played a crucial role in the development and argument of the project. The informailities that exist within Agbogbloshie become an urban model for a distributed network of maker’s recycling within the city. Upon visiting the site, I quickly realized the realities are more than just material and matter disposed globally. However, it is almost a city within a city — where a mosque could be in close proximity to a disassembly area, feeding of livestock, entertainment and repair shops.
Within the earlier research phase of the project, I began defining the various activities on the site as sociological typologies— illustrating the livelihood that already exists. The potential for this documentation allowed for the rezoning of these typologies where there becomes a more direct correlation between domestic and industrial activities.
In the context of the e-waste disposal site, the landscape needs to be understood as a landscape of disassembly. The reintegration of these disparate streams of production, consumption and waste allowed for new boundaries to exist. These boundaries relate to the existing conditions, while allowing for a more transformative and responsive environment.
What tools did you use to record conditions on site?
I collaborated with Agbogbloshie Makerspace Platform (AMP) to receive assistance on navigating through the through the site. For documentation, I utilized a digital dslr camera to take photographs, panoramas, and video. I recorded zoning areas and activity data with a local digital map of the area. I also spoke with local residents and workers to conduct interviews on their personal experiences.
What defined the various drawings you choose to discuss and explore various aspects of the project, from the diagram to the simple axos to sections and atmospheric views?
I utilize drawings as a tool to generate the narrative that I hope to convey within my work. I was also inspired by some of the works of Archigram, Superstudio, Cedric Price, and Stijn Jonckheere.
The overall goal of the drawings are to bring a vivid, detailed image to the work that may not necessarily need to be explained thoroughly. The influence of visual representation is present within the work through the choice of drawing. An axonometric view is used to show a part-to-whole diagrammatic relationship. While a section is utilized to reveal the interiority of the space that is not visible through its exterior. Lastly, the atmospheric views provide an imaged scene for the speculative project. In many ways, it provides the viewer with a tone of how to perceive the work.
What informed the final architecture of the machine?
Utilizing kit bashing as a formal strategy, a series of iterative experiments produce machine recombinants relative to the notion of being repurposed for functional use. After the precious metals are sought after, the vessels of the found objects and debris find new life as alternative ornamentation. The laboratorization of the machine allows them to be repurposed, re-assembled, and re-expanded. A continuous translation can arise, in which it can become a framework for a new urbanism where building structures are developed or deployed over time.
The intervention involves the hybridizing and stacking of programs, reminiscent to the site’s existing qualities and congestion. The function of the metropolitan machine includes: production as sorting, assembly line, and shredding; makerspaces; manufacturing; dormitories as dwelling; found object import / export; repurposed retail; maintenance; and containment areas. The proposal creates a framework for the various activities located on-site and it’s necessary standards of living. It also creates a definite formal quality of the division from the waste landscape and the development above.
What tools did you use in the development of the project?
A series of collages were used to generate machine recombinants with orthographic views of existing machine parts. I utilized Auotcad and Rhinoceros to draft and 3D model in detail the proposal. Photoshop and Illustrator were also used for graphic representation of the drawings.
What role do we as humans play in relation to the machine?
By recognizing that this site is a byproduct of the consequence of offshored production and waste activities globally, the thesis seeks to feed an economy that can become more self-reliant. The final architecture of the machine looks for strategies in which it can begin with an e-waste industry factory, but can later support more individualized economies.
Ideally as inhabitants of the machine, we can begin to navigate and constitute the performance quality within our urbanized region. Similarly to Cedric Price’s “Fun Palace”, occupants can have unprecedented control over their environment.
The thesis proposal does not necessarily dictate the assemblage or disassemblage of parts, leveraging the notion that disassembly cannot be augmented. This embraces an alternative future where the advancement of urban development can not exist without the aid of manual labor and human interaction.
How much longer is this approach sustainable? Through which means can we raise greater awareness?
The technological landscapes created as a result of e-waste disposal reveal the hierarchical relationships among those who create, consume, and discard goods in the modern global economy. The sustainability of the project exists through the narrative that it is a closed-system— localizing global distribution within micro-industrial ecosystems. The narrative of the project brings up the issue that the technological advances achieved by developed nations can be linked to the degradation in developing third-world countries. The relentless cycle of the rapid production of electronics and new technological products creates a lasting effect on the built environment in ways that the materials they are made of has an ecological influence.
By understanding why these conditions exist, we can begin to provide more narratives for these informal communities that surround the e-waste industry. Utilizing our agency as designers, we can begin tackle on specific resolutions that can help benefit the development of these communities.
Are you interested in tackling this issue further? If so through what means?
I am interested in tackling this issue further through looking at more immediate solutions. The notion of creating a self-sustaining, closed-system city– especially within a developing country might seem radical, but there are ideas in the project that provide liberation within future urban development. I hope I can look at developing small-scale prototypes of the project that involve direct re-use and repurpose of materials found on site, integrating recycling and fabrication. The development could potentially involve a detailed manual that begins to provide instructions of how to properly dismantle and reassemble these parts, avoiding the health hazard risks.
Ideally, I hope that I can have further collaboration and conversations with organizations that I are already developing designs involving mobility and makerspaces on site. My intentions are that the work can begin to have more direct impact on providing extraction and disassembly-based templates for architecture and urbanism within Agbogbloshie.
Georine Pierre is an Associate Research Scholar at Columbia University’s Center for Resilient Cities and Landscapes (CRCL). She is a Brooklyn-based architectural designer. Georine holds a Master in Architecture degree from California College of the Arts and a Bachelor of Science in Architecture degree from University at Buffalo’s School of Architecture and Planning. Her research interests include the spatial typologies, political histories, and contemporary forces of globalization that influence urban informality. During her graduate career, Georine was awarded the Kaz Baba Memorial Travel Grant to pursue her thesis research in Accra, Ghana. Her thesis focused on the complex landscape of Agbogbloshie, a village area where globally produced e-waste is processed. Prior to joining CRCL, Georine was a research assistant for the 2018 R+D award-winning project, Buoyant Ecologies Float Lab. She also participated as a researcher for the Resilient by Design Bay Area Challenge for SCAPE Studios’s Public Sediment team.