Heterotic Architecture: Stacks, Chimneys & Chutes

by Joshua Feldman (MArch ’16) — Recipient of the 2016 James Templeton Kelly Prize

The taut line between hybrid vigor and sterility dares our mastery. – Kenneth L. Kaplan, Hybrid Buildings

Heterotic Architecture proposes a synergistic integration of programs through formal, functional, and urbanistic exchanges. Heterosis or hybrid vigor, referring to the improved functioning of a hybrid offspring, offers conceptual potential for the project to explore the interbreeding of disparate programs to produce a mutually symbiotic relationship, as opposed to a mere juxtaposition of functions. This project investigates the heterotic architectural implications of combining a waste-to-energy facility with housing in Johannesburg, South Africa. In doing so, the project pairs energy producer with consumer, industry with housing, and peripheral with centrally located program.

Given increasing urbanization rates, global solid-waste generation is accelerating, presenting a looming crisis in the treatment and management of waste. Much of the increase is expected to come from fast-growing cities in developing countries, such as South Africa, which currently sends 90% of its waste to landfill. The project is located in the heart of Johannesburg’s inner city, adjacent the iconic Ponte tower in the residential neighborhoods of Hillbrow and Berea. Together, these neighborhoods have combined density of 67,500 people per square kilometer, far exceeding Hong Kong at 25,000 and New York City at 10,000. Within this context, the combination of housing with a waste-to-energy facility offers relief to overcrowded surrounding buildings and serves as an effective infrastructural link in the management of the city’s urban metabolism.

Inspired by the historical and cultural trajectory of the futurist imagination shaped by Sant’ Elia and others, the project embraces the formal potential and industrial identity created by stacks, chimneys and chutes that punctuate the elevation. The stacks not only release clean steam from the waste plant below, but also serve as circulation points for the housing units and act as urban beacons within the city. Given Johannesburg’s primarily warm climate (with wet, hot summers and dry, moderate winters) and the poor air circulation inherent to a dense urban context, chimneys are engaged to improve ventilation within the housing units. High pressure steam from the waste plant turbine is circulated within and around the openings of the chimneys located at the northwest side of each unit to draw air through the apartments. Elevated gardens are woven between the units and incorporate chutes for collecting resident waste. The building is raised above ground level to maintain the ground plan as a public space, comprised of a promenade and recycling center on the west, a central green space, and a recreation and sports area on the east. The impact of the project extends beyond the site, as the waste plant provides district heating and electricity for 400,000 city residents and processes 362,000 tons of waste annually.

An undulating façade weaves around the units, open spaces, and vertical elements, absorbing disparate components into a unified whole. In this way, the project resists singular readings as either a residential complex or a waste-to-energy facility. Instead, it proposes a new form of housing, which recasts the symbolic meaning of chimneys, stacks and chutes.

In combining housing with the waste plant on a centrally-located urban site, this project reimagines the way in which we live and rid ourselves of waste. Hybrid vigor is explored through the cross-breeding of programmatic requirements and integration of form, the thermal exchange between the housing units and waste plant, and the urbanistic value created by recapturing waste and maintaining the site as a public amenity.