The Cross Border Commons Advanced Studio presented a prompt for addressing global issues at the local scale, by intervening architecturally and strategically in an informal urban settlement in Tijuana, Mexico. The combination of a growing security apparatus along the US/Mexico border and increased urbanization within a binational watershed has accelerated the flow of wastewater, trash and sediment into the Tijuana River Estuary, a precious binational resource located in California. The project brief states: in recognizing issues of growing social inequality and environmental devastation are of mutual interest to each country, our studio engages the urgent challenge of designing binational cooperation and strategies of co-existence at the US/Mexico border, at a time of unprecedented polarization and division. Given the need to operate at several scales, it was necessary to design physical systems in tandem with social protocols, in addition to the programs and economies, the cross-sector collaborations, and the forms of governance that make those spaces sustainable.
Waste to Resources is sited in Las Flores, a sub-basin of Laureles Canyon. It proposes architecture which is adaptable and agile, anticipatory and participatory, and built and managed by the community into which it is embedded. Positioned in the path of annual sediment and waste flows, a series of open-air bridge-buildings increase cross-canyon mobility and formalize unreliable municipal waste management services, all while providing necessary space for classrooms, workshops, and small businesses to flourish. This network of performative structures, managed by Community Waste Brokers (an invented position of community members who are focused on materially and economically productive waste exchange), serve the dual function of sorting and organizing multiple streams of waste and recouping their values for the benefit of the neighborhoods that they serve.
Using funds traditionally employed in retroactive clean-up efforts by the EPA, the first phase of the project aims to pair a barter economy with a landscape tactic in order to allow for a spatial infrastructure of collective ownership to be built upon an already robust social infrastructure of collective exchange. By exchanging recyclables for subsidized necessities like medicine, education, and meals, our protocol preemptively incentivizes waste remediation, and transforms distinct buildings dedicated to waste collection into an apparatus which facilitates this long-term exchange. Considering multiple levels of engagement, we offer a framework to be filled with programs that are operational, infrastructural, and pedagogical, challenging ourselves to think beyond the boundary of the building, in order to encompass larger ecologies and economies in the conception of an architectural work. In recouping the value of what is generally seen as waste, it is reframed as a resource for the community of Las Flores, which will result in further investments into community infrastructure, improved public health, and renewed natural systems through cross-border cooperation.