Internationally renowned architects Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown have helped transform contemporary design through their innovative architecture and planning. Winners of numerous prestigious awards, their designs have championed multiculturalism, social activism, symbolism, pop culture, history and evolving technologies.
[DSB] I want to tell you about one other lecture that I recently gave – again, a very young group of just recently graduated architects in Spain. And Spain is zipping economically right now and Spain is very easy to reach – Madrid from Philadelphia is very direct and easy. And they called, and they… or they wrote and they said, ‘We are a group called Basurama’. They had to get us an introduction via another group we’d already worked with in Spain, and they said, ‘These people will tell you about us’. And basura is the Spanish word for waste. ‘So here we are an architect’s group calling ourselves… making a rama out of waste, like a diorama’, or something like that. So, I thought that sounds interesting enough.
[RV] I said no, but you said yes.
[DSB] And so, then they said, ‘If you can have studied Las Vegas we think you will have something cogent to say about waste’. And so… they didn’t know the half of what I wanted to say about waste. I started very far from Las Vegas and ended in another place too. I said much of architecture is going to have to take a trip from now on to the waste dump and for reasons that I explained during the lecture.
What were those reasons?
[DSB] Well, it’s a long lecture.
Why don’t you give us a summary?
[DSB] But, well, let me tell you a little about what they do first. Then I’ll tell you about what they said… what I said. They… they take industrial procedures that exist or neo-industrial procedures and they think of ways in which they could use the waste products. That’s one of the things they do and an interesting one that they were looking at when I was there is there’s a lot of fruit boxes in Spain and these have got ads on the fronts and the fruit sits out in the market. And you see where it comes from and a picture of the fruit and there sits the lemons in the box, or whatever it is. And they thought what a pity that these things couldn’t be used. And also old cereal boxes which have printed covers on them. They said, ‘Couldn’t we get these either not used but chucked, or used’, and out of the fronts of the wooden boxes they were making jigsaw puzzles and then out of the cereal boxes they were making book covers. All their books were each one a different picture by an industrial process, which is what fascinated them. And then they had to put their own very recognisable stamp over it, but there sits the cereal box picture and then their book stamp over that.
Then, it turns out that there’s a law in Spain which says you can’t use an old food product for anything at all. So, they couldn’t use that whole line of investigation – they should have checked that first. But the notion that you can get a lot of variety in an industrialised product if you will use a waste product. Another exhibition they held was, they took a computer and they took it all apart and they did an exhibition of all its pieces in an art gallery, on the basis that everyone uses them every day and no one knows what’s on the inside of them. So, they do various things. So, I talked about cycles.
By the way, they referred me to another Kevin Lynch book, it’s called Wasting Away and, I think, it’s his most poetic book. By that time, he was not writing as part of MIT and therefore he didn’t have to think of research that had to be computerised and he could really be literary and poetic about the subject of waste in a lovely way. But he didn’t deal with one subject in that book, which was, the artistic possibilities of waste. So, I called my lecture The Art in Waste.
Thomas Hughes is Mellon Professor Emeritus of the History of Science at the University of Pennsylvania and Distinguished Visiting Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His most recent books include Human Built World, Rescuing Prometheus and American Genesis. He is a member of the American Philosophical Society, US National Academy of Engineering, Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.