About This Live Project

Sheffield Homes is an Arms Length Management Organisation (ALMO) set up and owned by Sheffield City Council to manage council housing in Sheffield. As our client, Sheffield Homes offered us a list of potential project briefs for us to choose from, all of which deal with important issues and concerns regarding the current council housing stock in Sheffield. Our group decided to embark upon developing innovative solutions to address the important issue of waste disposal in flatted council estates. Our hope is that our efforts can offer strong design initiatives on the topic whilst creating awareness and incentive on the importance of recycling and proper disposal of household waste.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Inter-Studio Presentation tomorrow

Just a quick note to inform you all that tomorrow (6th November) shall be the day that we present our proposed solutions to the waste management problems of flatted estates within Sheffield, typical of Sheffield Homes' stock. The 6th November is also my birthday as EVERYBODY in the group knows after this week!!

Our presentation in the morning will display all our solutions from the High-Tech...

...to the Low-Tech

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Waste Paper

As we proceed with our chosen ideas, let's not forget those that didn't make the cut:

Whilst branding/imagery will more than likely play a large role when introducing a new system into any existing estate, our proposals have become a little more technical, attacking the infrastructure itself. But playful ideas regarding branding may resurface within a number of our suggested intiatives...

Monday, 3 November 2008

News from the Front

This afternoon I once again had the opportunity to speak with the team leaders of the Sheffield Home's Estates Officers (East City). I found it quite nice to see familiar faces again, some of whom I had work shadowed a couple of weeks ago. All were very positive to have me around, eager to hear how our project was going, though there was natural sceptical undertone felt regarding what we could actually achieve.

That aside, the most important element of this visit was to acquire their collective feedback on several ideas that we have been developing in small groups. Shifting my focus from the problems they deal with on a daily basis to feasibility of potential solutions was indeed refreshing approach. All ideas presented were well received regardless of whether they were too high-tech, costly or generally off-the-wall. I think they were just encouraged that an outside party, such as ourselves, were eager to address their troubles.

Without jabbering on and on about the experience, below are the main points to come out of the meeting, some of which should apply to the majority of our initiatives:

  • The current system offers virtually no solid way of enforcing fly-tipping laws... The reason? The act itself must be witnessed for any report to have any substantial weight behind it... The subsequent outcome? No one is afraid to fly-tip - end of story...
  • The point above also means that numbering bags or any other method of waste tracking would likely require a lot of planning, all party consideration and validity in the courts.
  • Offering responsibility / shared ownership / access to the bin stores for tenants is considered out of the question. However such an idea is not impossible that if an advanced code/lock system were used instead of a simply lock and key.
  • Fly-tipping will be collected by Estate Officers up to the external areas and the bottom of stair cores. Any other waste e.g. 3rd Floor landing, would have to be reported before collection would happen.
  • Any mechanism for larger hopper heads must comply with health and safety codes, no exceptions there (even if the usage was controlled by lock & key).
  • They liked the idea of creating a system which could reward those disposed of waste appropriately and penalised those who severely transgressed i.e. An Estate Officer marked rating system, which could be integrated into a responsive feedback loop.
  • They agreed that they could not be a single perfect solution to all of the problems considered so far. They were encouraged that several of our ideas merged together could offer an optimum solution that would, on the whole, make their jobs easier.

Thursday, 30 October 2008

This city is a Factory.

Some reflections on role / scope / outcome:

2 Economies 
It is odd that we see the disposal of waste as a single topic or problem - which can be contracted to a single organisation, or designed as just one system. We would never try to impose the same level of organisational simplicity on, for example, supply. How we supply ourselves, with what, from where, and how often has become a matter of societal expertise. We are good at it - in fact we are probably too good at it: Shopping has subsumed leisure, culture, public space... But the complexities of supply are understood as market complexities, where demand, desire, brand, lifestyle, logistics and ethics compete. The final destination of the consumption pattern is the house. Beyond the house - suppliers lose interest. The house, after the individual, is simply a secondary unit of consumption.

We don't (yet) see waste in the same way. We don't yet see houses as commercial units for the production of valuable 'waste'. The big difference is that over the last century, the central mantra of supply has been choice. The ability to choose between products not just in and of themselves, but increasingly for the 'ethical' choices they represent: "Fair trade", "Organic", "Local" (For more thinking on this, look at the Food Map Live Project here).  The first, and most obvious thing to point out about these is that this kind of choice is made according to moral value systems, and those value systems belong almost exclusively to the upper / middle class. They are (at times meaningless) Cameronisms which represent a green chic gloss over the core reality: That these choices are luxury products, completely inaccessible and value-less for somewhere between 1/3 and 1/2 of the population. The same can be said of the 'choices' introduced to the waste market. As unpalatable as it may seem, "recycling" and its moralisation has become a think-lite moral luxury, assuaging the guilt of the relatively well-off, but of little or no concern to everyone else. It is a Jamie Oliver / Hugh Fearnley Wittingstall middle class phenomenon. 

As Tom pointed out to me, the difference is value. We don't mind travelling to the shops under our own steam, because we desire what we want to buy there, and we see where we travel to as an act of choice. We do mind travelling to the recycling bank under our own steam because we value significantly less the end result. Perhaps not surprising, it might be argued, since our televisions are full of adverts which cause us to overestimate the value that a bought product will be to us, but very few adverts (but still some) which cause us to overestimate the value that a disposed product will be to us.

Trickle-Down Waste Economics?
What is missing is the passing-down of economic value in the waste economy. It is probably unfair of us to expect everyone in society to behave as workers in the municipal waste factory until we are rewarded with some kind of "wage" (which may or may not be monetary) for doing so.  Those trained to be (painfully) aware of the environmental sinfulness of landfill waste could be said to be showing some kind of altruism, but even they (we) are recovering some kind of 'feel good' / 'guilt-ease' value from the act. 

As an interesting aside, a recent article in New Scientist estimated that in the event of total societal breakdown, cities contain only about 3 days worth of food at any given time. It would be interesting to know  an equivalent statistic for waste. How many days worth of waste is in a city at any moment?

The Top Trump Solution
So how, as a strategic design project do you design waste? What is our value?Even focusing specifically on waste disposal in flatted estates - about 6% of the dwellings in Sheffield - is not necessarily any less absurd than trying to conceive of a total system for the supply of everything to those same flats.  Unsurprisingly, there is no single, clear solution - we have to hit the right balance of being bold enough to take on the issue and try to offer something new to the conversation, but no so arrogant as to think we can think of a total solution which somehow Sheffield Homes - who are grappling with this problem all the time -  have not thought of. Nonetheless, what we can do is cast new light on the question - test out a set of ideas, principles, and specific practical proposals. None of these proposals are a 'solution' - but they are what we have been calling 'top trump' solutions. Gains in one aspect of performance are offset against costs in others. You can't turn any one reality off:

Psychology / Beahvoir

 A problem that can be endlessly redefined can be endlessly half-solved, so part of our value is to identify key points of engagement - reasons to focus on one area and not another - to prod at the loopholes.

It occurred to us that from our own perspective, one of the most compelling aspects of the project is simply understanding (and making understandable) the system as it is. We can, for example, now tell you (roughly) what your bin is worth (we're not going to tell you yet - tune in next week). We've also realized the extent to which our taking-on of this problem as a 5-week topic is a form of exchange (we hope about 50-50..) We contribute ideas, but in return, take on a new awareness of the problems which could be eased / exacerbated by the design of buildings.

A Lesson
Waste disposal is simply not seen as an architectural problem  - certainly not a glamorous one. 'The bins' are either neglected until the 11th hour of the design process, or at best swept under the carpet as a design issue. As Tom pointed out, the 50's, 60's & 70's has offered some exceptions to this generalisation, in that chutes were clearly thought of as an integral function of high-rise dwelling. But society has moved on - the monolithic 'black bag' mindset has left us with fixed, permanent artefacts which struggle to cope with the oncoming complexity of 'after-the-house'  market logistics.  We (as architects) need to stop seeing bins as isolated objects, but as interfaces in a bigger, complicated economic / political / cultural system. We need to be wary of making bins into foreground objects, and even warier of making waste disposal a moral tax (on time/money/intellect / self-respect). But, perhaps paradoxically, in order to liberate building users, professionals need to make waste disposal an integral part of normal design thinking. Designing those systems/services well might have as great (or greater) an impact upon quality of life as will the thoughful design of the formal / aesthetic / three-dimensional properties of dwellings.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Just stumbled upon...

I have just accidentally stumbled upon a very interesting blog discussing many of the issues we are concerned with, and from some personal viewpoints.

Have a look: Chute the Messenger


New and improved?

Will retrofitting or replacing the existing chutes to encourage recycling solve the existing problems facing the waste disposal system?

No! While cleaning mechanisms can be installed to improve the chute hopper area, most problems will remain. Some tenants will still choose to throw their rubbish off of the decks and bin bags will still be too large for the chutes. It seems recycling and waste management have to be tackled through different means.

Where the existing chute fails.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Bridging the Grey

Below I draw upon ideas expressed by James's Ownership of 'waste' post and Al's developing concept of a integrated waste receptacle door.

The current situation (external landing flatted estates):
Issues to re-cap

  • Fly-Tipping is frequent and predictable occurance but essentially uncontrolled, thus Estate officers are forced to check all landings and stair cores.
  • The chutes are inadaquate to deal with large bags and hopper heads are even smaller for child safety concerns.
  • There is a notional 'no-mans land' between the tenants defensible space and the lacking waste disposal infrastructure.

A potential future? (external landing flatted estates):

System interventions
  • Tenants no longer have ownership of the chutes, they are now only accessible for Estate Officers. This removes the need for hopper heads and allows for larger openings, hence bigger bags can be thrown inside. In addition, the chutes themselves could be flexible to receive a variety of wastes (e.g. General waste, glass, cans and paper) providing the correct paladin bin is appropriately positioned below.
  • The waste disposal grey area / 'no-mans land' is neutralised through the usage of a {integrated waste receptacle door} and thus becomes part of the fixed boundary between private and public space.
Though interesting in principle, and as an concept which utilises a variety of the ideas discussed earlier in the group arena, it doesn't really achieve all the hits on the linked diagram I posted earlier. The costing alone of such a scheme would perhaps be enough reason to scrap the whole thing anyway!

Learning from the Heroes

Since yesterday’s work shadow with the Estate Officers, I have been trying to reflect upon our approach to evaluating ideas. Currently it seems we are striving to attack this dilemma of a brief from both multiple human perspectives/agendas and physical design constraints. We are probably all too familiar with the suggested notion of design as like balancing many spinning plates all at once (image below probably best defines the group work example).

More and more I am thinking that in order to achieve a *gasp* {plausible design solution for the problems associated with waste disposal and management in flatted council estates} will require perfect plate balance. In diagram form it could be reflected in the following image:

It is my belief that for the design to be both practically and delightfully successful, the links in this diagram cannot be broken... Or can they? Regardless, I still think by accessing the above criteria, it will be an interesting excerise to rate our developing ideas.