One man’s trash is another one’s treasure. Yet, the distinction requires an act of measurement.
In an economy of visual, virtual and material overproduction every single point of reference – including ourselves – is under the constant threat of drowning. Our capability to measure is simply overwhelmed by what we now have constant access to.
The cascade of images, objects and relationships rolling over you might seem uncannily familiar – yet, their individual relevance remains inextricable.
As a result of this, the future won’t distinguish between waste and value in the same way as it does today.
Instead, there will be competing strategies of how to avoid real as well as perceived suffocation.
Both threats are equally eminent, yet manifest themselves in different realms:
Material refuse gets chucked away inside landfills – either in hermetically sealed dry tombs, or simply uncontrolled. It is estimated, that in the US within the next 60 years all potential sites suitable for landfill will be used up, while their uncontrolled growth in other parts of the world already threatens the cities producing it.
On the other hand a cascade of virtual data causes a feeling of virtual waterboarding:
A seemingly banal snapshot of Mies in front of the National Gallery epitomises this dilemma: it is not the image, but the search for the image, which drowns the project in a homogenous stream of irrelevance.
In other words: Mies’ unprecedented and unbroken authority in search for order and clarity ultimately turns against itself – achieving the opposite.
The Magic Mountain negates any attempt of imposing form, value or manifesto onto the found, but is searching for ways to utilise its inherent conditions.
Berlin’s debris mountains precedent this current phenomenon.
The excessive accumulation of WWII refuse paired with political and territorial isolation forced the city to dispose the waste within its confined border. As a result, new cultural and geological ground was created.
But while political borders have been blurred or extended ever since, the geological ones remain intact – spaceship earth still has no exit.
The very act of piling, therefore, becomes the new craft.
Neither vertical nor horizontal, piling relies on architectural parameters such as gravity and geometry just as much as natural processes – for instance saltation or the angle of repose.
These parameters are scalable ad infinitum, but the context they are set in changes with increasing growth.
From a clear-out of the National Gallery to a snowballing roll, that rages through the city: the piles expansion fosters terror and spatial claustrophobia in the same way as it offers building resources and space for engagement.
To accumulate the latter, a network of conveyors is added to the cities exiting infrastructure. It leads to a site within or in close proximity to the city – in case of Berlin to the abandoned airfield of Tempelhof.
After the site is prepared to become a dry tomb, material as well as intellectual refuse slowly starts piling.
The cities ongoing practice of ridding itself from unloved and impractical structures delivers its demolished or replaced fragments, too, where they get buried among the other refuse. These are currently large parts of the National Gallery and John Hejduk’ s Kreuzberg Tower.
The piles rising masses are notoriously unpredictable. They constantly exceed the limits set by their retaining structures.
Responding to this, the conveyor is continuously extended through a system hinging joinery, floating/swimming on top of the avalanching pile by a set of hydraulic legs on top of webbed feet – pushing itself upwards.
When the pile is about to exceed its retainer, the process changes: the peak is flattened by a rotating template, transforming waste into formwork.
The conveyor switches from refuse to concrete – fed by a machine which retreats as the pile expands.
It combines industrial shredding, sorting and concrete blending into one continuous process.
A shell is cast and reinforced, which constituting elements are harvested from the same “mess” pile itself is made out of.
The conveyor and its machinery never stop, as they’re fuelled by the cities constant production of refuse. It can only vary the blend of aggregates it delivers and therefore keeps piling on. Soon, the casts have drowned inside lager piles.
As these are slowly merging to form the base/foundation for what will ultimately become the Magic Mountain.
Within the entropy of these shifting landmasses the cast vaults form small pockets.
The refuse they hold is now drained through the openings in the retaining wall and – once again – sent to pile on top of the peak.
This process gradually reveals a network of vaults – some of which connect, intersect or aren’t accessible at all.
On the interior surface the vault has cast the imprints of its former refuse – narrating not only their own production, but also testifies to cities suppressed and neglected history.
The big clean out is also unearthing pieces of the national gallery as well as other long-lost building fragments.
Both, fragments and fossilised refuse are lit by sanctuary lights – powered by decaying gases ejected from the landfill.
Read in chronological order the different vaults form a system of growth rings – similarly to a tree trunk – but opposed to the latter, the it carries now crown.
What the hell is it?
Despite the strictly defined internal processes, the pile lacks – even defies – any specific program.
While its form and content is entirely man made, the mountain’s typology is a geological and architectural hybrid.
Its piling masses can neither be described as monument, nor do they simply pose a threat to the city. Instead the piling of raw matter itself is what establishes a dialogue with the latter.
These ambiguities or even paradoxes all derive from the fact, that piling is strictly non-hierarchical.
It knowingly disregards format, content, site and nature of what is ultimately matter, and nothing else. (Mies’ image)
For architecture the consequence is twofold. As it trades in both: virtual and material production architecture must develop strategies to withstand and furthermore utilise the cascading data, imagery and matter.
New technologies have created new formal expressions but have done little in changing the way we practise.
Embracing the pile’s refusal to comply with formal, organisational and typological patterns might become a tool instead of a threat.
In any way it would allow architects to stake their claim in the biggest, most fundamental reshaping of cultural and industrial landscape ever conducted.