What began as an exercise in designing a new recycling kiosk for downtown Denver became a larger meditation on the solid waste collection systems of modern cities, resulting in the design of a large-scale system for moving waste. The specific question that architects Studio HT strove to answer over the course of their research was, as stated in their entry, “How can the activity of recycling achieve greater alignment between the methods and intention?”
The team examined the systems of conveyors and sorters at the local recycling plant and transferred the notion of conveyor belts in a factory to a series of underground tunnels, linked to a series of designated input and output points—much like sewers. To move the waste through the tunnels, the team looked to principles of biomimetics: By using electromagnets to expand and contract a flexible membrane inside each tunnel, waste can be moved along by an action similar to peristalsis, the movement of the intestines during human digestion. This membrane, with few mechanical components that could fail, would push the waste along to the designated dump site without relying on water.
The jury viewed the Denver Filter as a utopian idea and admired the entrants' process. “In order for waste to be reintegrated in the whole cycle of life, you have to remake the way we understand how we live in cities,” Chris Genik said. “Here's somebody putting their foot down and saying, ‘First, we're going to have to reinvent the infrastructure and then see what else we need to do.'”
Andres Lepik, too, was taken by the idea, with some reservations: “It has this utopian energy. They're not answering all the questions, but they're opening up new ways of thinking about a city, about how a city in the future can work, even if this is not a system which will ever work.” Genik wasn't as quick to dismiss the system's real-world feasibility. “Don't you imagine that, for example, the New York sewer system could be retrofitted with a series of tubular structures that could enable this, and you just use conventional manholes to dump waste in?” he speculated. “There's a part of it that's absolutely visionary and there's another aspect of it that's just retro-fitting wherever it exists.”
PROJECT Denver Filter
ARCHITECT Studio HT, Boulder, Colo.—Justin Ewing, Brad Tomecek, Christopher Herr, Kevin Sietmann, David Neiger (project team)
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