What Is the Urban?

Registers of a World Interior

El Hadi Jazairy and Rania Ghosn

DESIGN EARTH, led by El Hadi Jazairy and Rania Ghosn, is a collaborative practice that engages the geographic to open up a range of aesthetic and political concerns for architecture and urbanism. Literally ‘earth-writing’ from the Greek geo- (earth) and -graphia (writing), DESIGN EARTH’s geographic practice involves representing the earth and also projecting other possible worlds. 

DESIGN EARTH’s work has been recognized with several awards, including the 2015 Jacques Rougerie Foundation’s First Prize, and honorable mentions for their project entries in 2015 Dry Futures, 2014 Fairy Tales, 2014 London Organic Skyscraper, 2014 Unbelievable Challenge, and 2013 Rio City Vision competitions. They have lectured extensively across the USA and Canada, as well as Spain, Norway, Switzerland, Qatar, and Belgium.

Ghosn and Jazairy hold Doctor of Design degrees from Harvard University Graduate School of Design, where they were founding editors of the journal New Geographies and respectively editors of NG2: Landscapes of Energy and NG4: Scales of the Earth. They are authors of Geographies of Trash, recently published by Actar, and for which they received the 2014 ACSA Faculty Design Award. Some of their recent work has been published in Journal of Architectural Education, MONU, San Rocco, Thresholds, Bracket, Perspecta, and Topos.

Geographies of Trash

“Burn it, Bury it, Recycle it, or Send it on a Caribbean Cruise,” are four things former mayor of New York City said could be done with garbage in the wake of the roaming Mobro4000 barge episode, when 3000 tons of trash were hauled to Belize and back until finally incinerated in Brooklyn. The Mobro4000 episode speaks of a paradigm of “clean urbanism,” which rests on the city’s capacity to divest itself of undesired costs of urbanization by displacing them to the geographic scale as “matter out of place.” If such externalization of trash has placed it outside of design’s environmental agency, can the expansion of the urban scale to that of the geographic re-inscribe urban technological systems within disciplinary practices and imaginaries?

Geographies of Trash reclaims the forms, spaces, and technologies of municipal solid waste systems as objects of design. The research-design methodology adopts a threefold approach, 1) to conceptualize the spatial issues imbricated in the burial, mass burning, abandonment, recycling, or exile of economic excess; 2) to chart relations of trash and space in Michigan across different scales – from the block, township, territorial grid, state to continental flows; 3) to speculate on alternative strategies, rituals and imaginaries that reclaim trash as “matter in place.” Geographies of Trash proposes five situated yet generic architectural strategies of trash-formations throughout the American territorial grid. The five discrete projects, Cap, Collect, Contain, Preserve, and Form, engage alternative imaginaries for landfilling, recycling, burning, re-using, dumping and valuing. By making trash visible and formal, the project aspires to engage disciplinary debates on technological systems in architectural urbanism. 


Iowa State University

Department of Architecture

April 4-5, 2016