From Landscapes of Extraction to Creative Industries of Organic Materials and Waste

Monday, February 14, 2011 - 6:30 pm
Room 112 (Stubbins) / Graduate School of Design, Harvard University / 48 Quincy Street / Gund Hall
Colleen Hansel - Materials Research Science and Engineering Center - School of Engineering and Applied Sciences
Manuel (Manman) Mansylla, Trashpatch
Pablo Rey, Basurama
Richard Forman


Technology has no limits. Science has no limits. Human creativity and imagination have no limits. The limits are imposed by matter. Raw materials are being extracted from the remotest of geographies and we are beginning to exhaust the last reservoirs of available minerals in order to perpetuate a production system based on disposability and the consumption of wholes, not parts; of large, not small; of new, not old; of multiple, not the one that is needed. In order to extract such minerals, we often deplete forests, along with the cultures that inhabit them, or contaminate river basins. Science and technology can produce brilliant responses to our environmental problems, but unless they take into account the source of the materials they consume, the counter landscapes of extraction, those of waste and slums (people get displaced as we render their land useless through monoculture or extraction), will continue to grow; setting off our good intentions to move towards a more sustainable future.

In the midst of the conundrums of “green development” three activities are acquiring a preeminent role: reinserting waste into the cycles of matter and production; re-using, adapting and renovating existing material culture; and last but not least, computing the economic value of biodiversity, indigenous knowledge and vegetation mantles whose market value cannot currently compete against the minerals that underlie them, even though our access to vital resources like oxygen and water depend on them. Research efforts geared towards developing industries of waste, bio-tectonics and bio-mineralization should at the very least equate those assigned to developing alternative sources of renewable energy (in some cases, they are one and the same thing).

Because we believe that design disciplines are called to play an important role in reshaping and retrofitting our environments, productions systems, commodities, ways of life and values, we propose to host a dialogue between a scientist of innovative biomaterials, emerging designers working with waste and the design community at the GSD in order to reflect upon the ways in which we can design less wasteful buildings and objects, adapt what we have to new uses and take into consideration the source of the materials we select as well as their socio-environmental impact.

An initiative of the Loeb Fellowship
Graduate School of Design, Harvard University


Richard Forman
Richard T. T. Forman is the PAES Professor of Landscape Ecology at Harvard University, where he teaches ecological courses in the Graduate School of Design and in Harvard College. His primary scholarly interest is linking science with spatial pattern to interweave nature and people on the land. Often considered to be a father of landscape ecology and also of road ecology, he helps catalyze the emergence of urban-region ecology and planning. Other research interests include changing land mosaics, conservation and land use planning, and urban ecology. He received a Haverford College B.S., University of Pennsylvania Ph.D., honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Miami University, and honorary Doctor of Science from Florida International University. He formerly taught at Rutgers University and the University of Wisconsin, and received the Lindback Foundation Award for Excellence in Teaching. He served as president or vice-president of three professional societies, and has received awards and honors in France, Colombia, England, Italy, China, Czech Republic, Australia, and the USA. Internationally, he catalyzes the flow of ideas in ecological science and related fields for society, in addition to deciphering the widespread patterns of nature. Professor Forman has authored numerous articles, and his books include Landscape Ecology (1986), the award-winning Land Mosaics (1995), Landscape Ecology Principles in Landscape Architecture and Land-use Planning (1996), Road Ecology (2003), Mosaico territorial para la region metropolitana de Barcelona(2004), and Urban Regions: Ecology and Planning Beyond the City (2008).

Colleen Hansel
Colleen Hansel earned her Ph.D. (2004) from Stanford University in Soil and Environmental Biogeochemistry. She earned her M.S. (1999) from the University of Idaho in Soil Chemistry and her B.S. (1997) from California State University-Sacramento in Geology.
Prior to coming to Harvard, she served as a postdoctoral scientist at Stanford University in Molecular and Microbial Ecology.
Hansel is a member of the American Geophysical Union; the Geochemical Society; the American Society of Microbiologists; and the Mineralogical Society of America.
The Hansel lab investigates the mechanisms underpinning microbially-mediated metal redox transformations and mineralization using both a geochemical approach to define redox reaction mechanisms and rates and a biological approach to identify the microbial communities and corresponding biochemical pathways involved in the production of redox-active metabolites.
The redox cycling and mineralization of metals are dictated by the kinetics and thermodynamics of an intricate network of abiotic and biotic reactions. Furthermore, the metabolic activity of a diverse array of microorganisms may control the speciation, structure and subsequent reactivity of many metals through both direct enzymatic and metabolite-induced reaction pathways.
The operative biogeochemical pathway is a result of synergistic or competing reaction mechanisms, which may not be reflected in the broader redox signature and geochemical profile. For instance, the biomineralization of metals is oftentimes a result of coupled biotic-abiotic pathways, including redox reactions induced by (photo)chemically-active metabolites. The mechanisms (abiotic, enzymatic, metabolite driven) of metal redox transformations and biomineralization are further influenced by the phylogeny and physiology of the functional bacterial and archaeal communities.
The lab also addresses the potential consequences of operative reaction pathways on the stability and reactivity of the ensuing metal biominerals. Thus, the research sits at the interface of environmental geochemistry and microbial ecology to ultimately address the chemical and microbiological controls on the fate and transport of metals that adversely impact both terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems.

Manuel Mansylla
J. Manuel Mansylla (aka manman) has always felt a strong passion for Nature and a deep connection with the oceans. As an independent artist and designer, his work has been defined by a firm commitment of antiestablishment, promoting the use of re-claimed, recycled and repurposed materials as an answer to unsustainable practices. As an environmental advocate his work revolves around calling into question contemporary lifestyles that now threaten our living environment. For the past years he has been devoted to the remediation of the world’s single-use-plastics-over-consumption. Manman made his artistic debut in 2003 with his first solo exhibit Proyecto de Reciclaje No. 2; winner of one of the most prestigious contemporary art competitions for up-and-coming artists in Guatemala [his country of origin]. This project was the first of many projects working with salvaged, reclaimed or repurposed materials; a trademark in the artists work. His projects are characterized by open-endedness; integrated-design-strategies and conceptual art propositions that challenge contemporary lifestyles and humankind’s global realities, defined as ‘that’ which stands between local individuality.
Given our contemporary homogeneous situation, the artist proposes courage and creativity as the essence of identity, the very thing that defines us as unique and different from the rest. As part of this ‘search for identity’, in which we all seem to be enrolled, questioning and opposition become the means of transportation to this global/local/individual/universal reality.

Pablo Rey
Pablo Rey Mazón works in Basurama (Trash-o-rama) since its foundation in 2001. Basurama is an association for the discussion, research and production about waste and reuse in every kind of formats and possible meanings. Basurama's activities range from workshops and multimedia production to interventions in public space and curatorial projects, always having trash as the common factor. Basurama has just finished Urban Solid Waste, a series of public art projects in Latin America in collaboration with AECID (Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation) focused on waste, local agents and public space. Pablo's work in Basurama is mainly centered in processes associated with the metabolism of the cities in a territorial scale; the role of the informal sector in waste management systems; and the projects for the geolocation of waste as a resource. As a photographer he is now developing, a project that, through geotagged panorama photos, researches about the landscapes that the Spanish real estate crisis has left behind. In Basurama he has also developed, a web for the free exchange of objects, as well as the project for the geolocation of waste material in the Ruhr Gebiet in Germany.
He takes part in several independent research groups such as: Meipi, which develops the open source software for participatory cartographies;, that researches about cultural expenses in Madrid Region for the development of an analytic web visualization tool; Montera34, a web-design studio that develops organization and visualization tools. He has researched about the links between Typography and Architecture and has been teacher of black and white photography.
Pablo Rey Mazón holds a Master in Architecture by the Escuela Técnica Superior de Arquitectura de Madrid and has also studied in the Technische Universität Dresden in Germany. He is now living in Boston and developing projects for Basurama in the US.

Image credits: Edward Burtinsky,, Andreas Gursky (Top Strip); Rubcn; Juan Fernando Hidalgo; & Basurama

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