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Solid Waste Management Facility

Artists' Design

Text of proposal by the Artist Team


Reclamation Centre for the City of Phoenix

The Artist Team: Michael Singer, Linnea Glatt, Richard Epstein, Sterling McMurrin


The City of Phoenix, Arizona is building one of the most comprehensive recycling centers in the country. Percent for the Arts Funds, administered by the Phoenix Arts Commission, mandate that one percent of construction funds be used for art. In this situation, the funds were used by artists Michael Singer of Vermont and Linnea Glatt of Dallas to design the entire project. The artists formed a Design Team with designers Richard Epstein and Sterling McMurrin.

The Team was responsible for designing all aspects of the project including the site layout, the buildings and the landscape for the facility. The Design Team is supervising the implementation of their design into construction documents that will be completed by local engineers. This $18 million facility will be in operation by 1991.

By 1991, the City of Phoenix will fill its 27th Avenue Landfill after only 15 years of operation. A new landfill will be opened nearly 40 miles from the city. Because of high transportation costs, Phoenix has decided to begin a comprehensive recycling program that will turn solid waste into a saleable resource. The Recycling Center, run by the Department of Public Works headed by Ron Jensen, will serve as a place to transfer waste from collection trucks to long haul vehicles headed for the landfill. Recyclable materials will be separated here from the rest of the waste stream and made available for resale.

The Center will also serve as a place to transform public attitudes about waste. Unlike most recycling facilities, which operate in an "out of sight, out of mind" context, Phoenix's new Center will enable visitors to view the entire recycling operation. This function of public education is crucial to ensure the success of recycling for Phoenix.

To address the concepts of recycling and transformation, the Design Team looked at a number of questions throughout the investigation:

  • How can the Facility challenge preconceived ideas?

  • Could the Facility transform one's thinking about recycling and waste?

  • How can an awareness of this place be heightened?

  • How could one perceive the relation between built and natural?

  • How can the facility reveal its function to visitors?

  • How can the Facility become a place that one would want to return to?

  • Could the Facility set a standard for the future?

These questions and the resulting design concepts are meant to create a place with multiple layers and meanings that are revealed through repeated visits. It is a place that encourages questions and yields discoveries for the visitor.

The site itself gave the ultimate inspiration for establishing the design. The site is located between the City's soon to be closed landfill and the Rio Salada or Salt River. This location is ideal to create a dialogue between the built environment of the city and the natural world of the river and the mountains beyond. The Recycling Center links these two dynamic systems (the urban and the natural) by organizing both the building and the site along a diagonal axis.

Visitors to the facility will approach it via the crest of the former landfill from which they will see the center and its surroundings stretched out below. From here, the building appears nearly submerged beneath a series of berms formed of discarded construction materials planted with native desert vegetation; its only visible members are the central trusses supporting the roof. Seen from this vantage point, the facility appears as if it is being overtaken by the natural environment. This sense is magnified by the view of the Salt River, with its lush vegetation and prolific bird life and beyond the towering outline of the South Mountains.

As the visitor nears the facility, the building has a different perception. From the parking area, the full height of the thirty foot south wall is evident with the skyline of the city in the background. A connection between this industrial facility and the urban environment is suggested. The Recycling Center will accommodate a variety of users. Five hundred City refuse trucks a day - one every minute - will enter the facility to drop off recyclable materials and transfer non-recyclables to trailer trucks for transport to a distant landfill. In addition, the facility will attract "selfhaulers," who choose to deposit their discarded cans, bottles, paper, cardboard, plastic containers, and discarded landscape material themselves. Commercial firms who wish to buy the recycled material for use in packaging, landscaping or construction are given special access to the facility.

Groups of schoolchildren and others who wish to learn about recycling are received in a visitor center which informs visitors about the various processes that occur at the facility. The entire operation is made visible so that the public can understand the issues of solid waste and the concepts of recycling. Windows from the visitor's courtyard offer views directly in to the "marketplace", the area where stored bales of recyclables are sold for vendors, providing physical evidence of the benefits of recycling. An amphitheater located between the central trusses also provides a place for educational programs with unobstructed views into the building. A catwalk along the south side of the building allows visitors to further view all aspects of the building's operation.

Administrative Offices are in a courtyard complex shaded by a structure covered with vines. The courtyard looks out over a sunken area of the roof where the roof trusses are exposed and planted with layers of vines on cables. A view of downtown Phoenix is also evident from the visitor/administration area. A sunken courtyard for employees, on the North side links the upper courts and the floor of the Re-cycling Facility. The locker rooms have a bermed roof and open out to this court. Employees inside the Facility can see out to the courtyard garden providing an experience not usually found in factory buildings.

In the Self-Haul Area the design creates an unexpected environment for the public coming to dump trash. A planted arbor (ramada) provides much welcome shade, while stepped growing terraces and fragrant plants give users of the facility the sensation of being in a garden.

Recycling household and commercial waste is not the center's only goal. Taking the concepts of transformation and reclamation further, the Recycling Center provides an example of how the land itself can be restored. Currently the site is a devastated area pockmarked by sewage deposits: and borrow pits. Its proximity to water, however, offers a means to transform it from its current wasted state to a condition of ecological health and life.

A concrete effluent channel borders the site, bringing water from a nearby wastewater treatment plant to the Salt River. Water will be diverted from the channel and brought through a newly created marsh and pond. This natural system will cleanse the water and provide a habitat for birds and wildlife. A pathway around the pond enables the city's inhabitants to experience this natural environment. At the same time they may begin to realize the more profound ramifications of recycling and start to rethink the relation between the land, the water, and the garbage we create.

Additional production assistance was given by MIT Architecture Students: Craig Witte, Don Knerr, Bill Boehm, Peter Webber, Clyde Rousseau Patrick Jackson, Leslie Hamanaka, Laura Spark, Joe Chalat and Pierre Leclerc.

For additional information contact the Artist Team:

Box 682


Vermont 05361

phone: 802 464-2781