It is not uncommon to find perfectly usable art supplies, paper, plastics, lumber products, plywood or any of a host of other materials in the dumpster behind Paul Rudolph Hall and the Jeffrey H. Loria Center for History of Art — the detritus of students’ architecture projects. Architecture students purchase, use and discard large amounts of building material every semester. The design studios, it turns out, are scale models of the building industry at large. The ubiquitous giant trash containers at construction sites fill with salvageable, recyclable building materials bound for the landfill. Counteracting this wastefulness should be part of the mission of any school teaching architecture.
For the first half of this semester, the gallery at the Yale School of Architecture hosted an exhibit touting the “emerging collaboration between stylish architecture, interior design and environmental responsibility,” in the words of the exhibit’s promotional materials. Given my work as an ecologist and environmentalist studying environmental impacts and the built environment, that the school’s gallery was hosting “The Green House: New Directions in Sustainable Architecture” should have warmed my heart. However, on a routine salvage visit to the loading dock behind Paul Rudolph Hall, I was surprised to find the entire exhibit, eight-foot-tall stands, display boards, tables and all, in a dumpster awaiting its one-way trip to the landfill. So much reusable material was being discarded that an extra dumpster, in addition to the one normally present, was on-site to receive it.
That the scraps of student model-making materials end up in the dumpster behind Rudolph Hall is no surprise. Recycling bins large enough to hold a young architect’s model-making scraps are rarely, if ever, present in the architecture studios. Even when the correct bins are present, their contents often head straight for the trash bins at the rear of the building because the Architecture School’s waste streams are so poorly sorted. It seems a striking oversight in a building aiming for a LEED Silver rating. And it seemed strange to see school’s latest “green” exhibit dumped in the trash, a perfect example of the wasteful one-time-use mentality so prevalent today.
Inconsistency of message, combined with a lack of willingness to face difficult, complex problems head on, plagues architecture as it crawls toward thoroughly considering its role on a planet ever more degraded by human activity.
Visiting “The Green House,” I worried that the designs and products on display barely scratched the surface of the changes in our buildings that eco-friendly living would require. If going green is what’s in style, then the recent exhibit at the Yale School of Architecture clearly chose style over substance — a style quickly abandoned to the trash heap when the show was over.
Thomas Chase is a student in the School of Architecture and the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies.