Trash Talk: New Guidelines Show How Architects and Planners Can Clean Up Cities

The Zero Waste Design Guidelines is a multidisciplinary book that explores in-depth how to best handle waste on the building and urban scale.

Zero Waste Design Guidelines
Courtesy Center for Architecture

“Waste is a design flaw,” announces Zero Waste Design Guidelines, a recently-unveiled book produced by AIA New York (AIANY).

The book–much in the vein of the 2010 Active Design Guidelines, which AIANY also helped produce–aims to be an interdisciplinary toolkit. Zero Waste Design Guidelines is the result of intense research and collaboration: multiple architects, the Department of Sanitation (DSNY), the Department of City Planning (DCP), and the Department of Transportation (DOT) participated in workshops and roundtables, while the book’s authors also conducted more than 40 building site visits and building manager interviews.

With New York City aiming to send zero trash to landfills by 2030, but still exporting some 24,000 tons of discarded material every day, the challenge is immense. As the book also notes, “designing for material flows in our buildings is not the same as designing for energy and water flows.” Trash takes many forms (recyclable, compostable, hazardous, etc.) and it all needs to be sorted and transported, with humans playing a direct role at some point in the process. “Design hasn’t really been applied to the waste field,” said Claire Miflin of Kiss + Cathcart, Architects, who helped write Zero Waste Design Guidelines. “It’s really an amazing opportunity.”

The book details current standard practices and suggests new approaches. On the building scale, architects need to start planning early in a project to reduce construction waste while also designing proper collection paths, sorting points, and holding facilities. On an urban scale, trash pickup greatly affects the layout and use of streets (as any New Yorker who’s maneuvered around a trash bag mini-mountain will attest). Neighborhood-scale solutions include pneumatic tube systems, submerged trash containers, and networks of small neighborhood recycling centers, to name a few. As multiple AIANY members pointed out at the Guidelines‘ release event, creating trash bag–free streets could become a major amenity for residential and commercial developments alike.

You can download the full set of guidelines here. Project Projects designed the book, and will also design an exhibition on the same topic that will appear at the Center for Architecture in time for the AIA Conference on Architecture in June 2018.

Recent Viewpoints