We are what we dispose : continuation of culture through recycling at Rhode Island School of Design
Date of Award
Master in Interior Architecture [Adaptive Reuse]
Every year, RISD produces massive amounts of waste, from dining trash to discarded art pieces. Art educational institutions have more complex varieties of garbage compared with other educational institutions, given the variety of media used by each discipline. As an art and design school, RISD takes issues of sustainability seriously, therefore it is natural to address the problem of waste. The current recycling strategy of RISD is mainly based on the waste’s material difference, even though other processing strategies have been developed, like the Second Life Store, which is mostly based on usability; current recycling strategies remain singular and linear, ending in the same waste cycle.
Some practitioners of the theoretical framework known as Critical Regionalism introduce a new perspective on waste: they integrate waste within buildings. This strategy is mostly based on the region or culture value of the waste, like “spolia.” When viewed through the lens of Critical Regionalism, the old forms or systems, should be kept or fully learned and understood so that they can be carried into the next generation. Design in the past was site specific, born and grown from the understanding of the site and that period of time. Without respecting that unique understanding, there would be a risk of “placelessness”, and that region or culture could lose its unique characters and merge into the sea of globalization.
Even though this theory is often related to acknowledgement of entire cultures rather than just the materiality of a structure, it is not difficult to apply a recycling strategy to architecture within RISD in a way that reinforces the culture of the institution. As an educational institution woven throughout Providence, RI, RISD as a brand has a strong image in public. Due to a 140-year history, RISD forms a strong sense of community. However, it suffers from a placelessness that can be strongly felt within this university: RISD could be built anywhere. It is never a part of local communities in Providence and doesn’t seem to have a strong individual character. Part of the problem is that there is little legacy left to be learnt from the past generation of students. Does art waste, the evidence of making, define RISD? Could Abstract integrating this waste into the fiber of the school help to acknowledge RISD’s unique culture?
There should be a specific intervention or interventions that allow portions of the waste that are highly creative in character of RISD to be displayed in public at the center of the campus, easy to be accessed and visible to RISD students and visitors or local people who want to know more about RISD.
The public area surrounding the Metcalf building and museum would be the best setting as it sits at the center of the campus. In order to achieve a sculptural monumentality, the intervention is sited within the central campus circulation and within constant view of visitors. Inspired by concept of spolia, the design of recycling system respects the specificity of a particular major, including its general use of materials and sizes of works produced. It is integrated with walls and furniture of the site, parallel with circulation as much as possible. The displayed pieces, like spolia in a wall, create an environment that links to the past. It is necessary for RISD to build a place to display its legacy over time and offer all RISD students an opportunity to learn from previous generations, so that RISD as a community will be known like a university that has a unique culture, continued history and value -- not just a name or a logo.
Jiang, Xinzhou, "We are what we dispose : continuation of culture through recycling at Rhode Island School of Design" (2017). Masters Theses. 165.
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