F'14 Thesis: Debbie Chen

Debbie Chen

M.Arch Thesis Fall 2013

Faculty Advisor: Paul Lewis

Project Title: The Municipal CHUW (Center for Harvesting Utility from Waste): A New Resource Infrastructure for New York City


Municipal waste is the largest untapped resource for our cities today. It is a resource that continues to be marginalized under our lifestyle of linear consumption. From the market to the dump, products and goods consumed in our urban environment find their way to the fringes of society, both physically and culturally. Waste, and the burden of eliminating it from everyday life, is a stigmatized municipal infrastructure that remains critical to the city’s performance. However, as transportation costs become burdensome and landfill space scarce, a rethinking of our waste system is brought to bear. Cities literally need to be resource(ful). In light of this consideration, an opportunity arises to exploit city waste for the extraction of environment, economic and social value.

Using New York City as a test site, the Municipal C.H.U.W. proposes to re-institutionalize the city’s waste management system in pursuit of these values. Focusing specifically on quotidian household waste, the C.H.U.W. operates on a dispersed micro-grid system that champions the benefits of digesting our waste locally. Collection and transportation methods, frequency of distribution, material recovery, and energy generation all figure in to a new environmental efficiency that matches the agility of the city.

The project focuses on one prototypical C.H.U.W. facility located in the borough of Manhattan. Embedded within the urban fabric of East Village, the C.H.U.W. operates like a machine for processing collected waste into its constituent categories of organics, metals, paper, plastic and glass. The design, however, promotes a duality of extraction and production, coupling material recovery and on-site light manufacturing. Part supplier and part factory, the C.H.U.W. generates economic value through the local production of raw material as well as end product.

In having a physical presence in the city, the Municipal C.H.U.W. narrows the gap in our social consciousness between what we consume and what we produce. Community participation is fostered through composting and fabrication workshops, programs that emphasize interaction with waste material in the spirit of production. Dismantling outmoded and unaffordable notions of city waste, the project aims to present a new resource infrastructure that is interconnected and cyclical rather than dissociated and linear. The C.H.U.W. embodies a multi-scalar ecosystem that blurs the boundary between waste and value at all levels of the city, from the home to the street to the neighborhood and back again that blurs the boundary between waste and value at all levels of the city, from the home to the street to the neighborhood and back again.