Monday, March 9, 2009

An Expanded Definition of Waste

Blueprint for the Panopticon prison model created by Jeremy Bentham in 1791

Last Wednesday, the topic of the Design Baltimore Conversation was "waste." We had a great line up of speakers exploring a number of different topics, from creating and running a store stocked with entirely free items, to developing a three-tiered system that collects compost as well as recycling and trash, to the development of urban land from refuse.

The host of the evening was artist and professor Hugh Pocock, who had a wonderful way of framing the topic of waste for the 75 or so people in attendance that night. "There's no such thing as waste, it's just a relationship between energy and money," he said. He went through a series of slides showing the dueling roles of sun energy and money energy. He then paused on an aerial shot of an enclosed room showing about a dozen men lounging on cots. Some stared at the ceiling, others appeared to be napping. All were in various states of repose in what could be a shelter or a school gym. Turns out to be a photo of a prison and here is where Hugh discusses the waste of unrealized human potential. On all levels, he concluded, "We're having to deal with the consequences of poor design. So how to cope with an unsustainable system?" he asked. "Can we design a community with no waste? Imagine a culture with no prisons?"

There was an article last week in The New York Times titled Greening the Prison-Industrial Complex. The piece focuses on some of the sustainable intitatives in prison design and the technology that is saving energy (as in the fossil fuel and money energy Hugh characterized).

Raphael Sperry, an architect behind the Prison Design Boycott Campaign, ended the article with a wonderful quote about that other wasted resource: Humans. “Sure, saving 50 percent on energy when you’re locking people up is a savings,” he says. “But not locking them up at all would be a larger savings—and would also address social justice concerns.”

I interviewed Raphael last year for a piece that I wrote on prison design. You can read that piece by clicking here.