Shortly after arriving in Buenos Aires two months ago we met up with Dante Munoz and Carlos Levinton. They have tutored us in the politics of waste and the re-purposing of waste (as well as ceviche and milongas), and we have met with them at least once a week in the Centro Experimental de la Production (CEP) at the University of Buenos Aires’ School of Architecture, Design and Urbanism. Carlos is an architect, a professor of architecture and director of the CEP, which is supported by (mostly) volunteer architects and funded by a three-year, $7000/year grant from the University. The CEP has been described to us, and probably to University Administrators, as a research unit that investigates emergency disaster preparedness and response (like a FEMA think tank), but we are learning that it is much, much more than that and, in a conversation with Dante the other day, we began to get the bigger picture.
When the CEP thinks about minimizing risks to disaster they are thinking about theoretical models and practical applications that reduce vulnerability to environmental, economic, social and natural disasters, and their work attempts to address some very fundamental questions such as: what is healthy housing? What are healthy cities? What are healthy exchange relationships? What impedes health, and what political, economic and educational activities are necessary to restore it? They are part of a larger, loosely joined movement of academics, collectives, and activists who, perhaps inspired by the self-management movement that has flourished since the 2001 economic collapse of the Argentinean economy, or Argentina’s history of legal and successful workers’ cooperatives, or the scattered but concentrated experiments with Trueque (the Inca word for a multi-reciprocal exchange economy), believe that they can mobilize against the values of a consumer economy that processes identity and relationships in terms of acquisitiveness, accumulation and privilege. We share many things with the CEP, not the least of which are our mutual experiments in adding value to what is normally considered society’s waste. We are working with high-density plastic (plastic bags) combined with natural fibers (cardboard) to create building materials and domestic products, and they are producing (in addition to many other things) solar heating panels and insulation from discarded 2-liter cola bottles. Both of us are investigating the use of low threshold/high impact technologies to improve peoples’ physical living conditions and to reduce the proliferation of waste.
Dante and Carlos invited us to come work with them in Bolivia on a project that is being co-supported by the Argentinean Government and the La Paz Municipal Government. They are building a no-cost Eco-Center high (4500 meters) in the mountains of the Hampaturi district of La Paz, constructed from used tires and plastic bottles, local bamboo and earth. This will be the first of four projected teaching and learning Eco-Centers where local villagers will come to learn about water purification techniques, how to build water pumps and solar heating generators, fuel briquettes from paper, cardboard and used cooking oil and, with our participation, how to combine plastic with natural fibers from local plants to create building materials. We returned from Bolivia about 1 week ago and will write about our experience in subsequent posts.