Wasted: Trash Talks

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2019 Preston H. Thomas Memorial Symposium

Wasted: Trash Talks

Design for the end of Material as we Know it.

The planet has finite resources, yet we design and build as if our materials are unlimited. In fact, the earth's crust contains less than 20 years of copper, tin, and zinc, at the current rate of mining. Sand, a vital aggregate in cement, is rapidly depleting. Architects urgently need to rethink not only what materials we use, but how they are designed, assembled, and eventually disassembled, in order to be reused in a circular fashion.

With a keynote address by Peter Van Assche and presentations by Maria Aiolova, David Benjamin, Meredith Miller, Sabine Rau-Oberhuber, Billie Faircloth, and Juliette Spertus, this year's Preston H. Thomas Memorial Symposium will gather the world's leading creative experts on waste and design to focus on the question of how we as designers can, and must, play a larger and more creative role in design for a circular future. Through discussion topics ranging from designing with recycled and recyclable materials to building with innovative renewable organic materials, the symposium aims to provoke young designers to create innovative, meaningful, and inspiring architecture by considering waste not as a problem, but as a resource.

The symposium is organized in tandem with the book Design for a Circular Economy: The Architecture of Waste by Edgar A. Tafel Associate Professor Caroline O'Donnell and Dillon Pranger (M.Arch. '15), with essays by Felix Heisel and Mariana Mogilevich, and work by students from Harvard GSD and Cornell's Department of Architecture. The topic was first addressed in the fall 2017 studio Cyclo, taught by O'Donnell and Pranger with Strauch Visiting Critics in Sustainable Design Dirk Hebel and Felix Heisel. This studio would not have been possible without the support of Hans (B.Arch. '80) and Roger (B. Arch. '78) Strauch. Their past annual contributions, as well as a generous endowment gift, created the Strauch Visiting Critic in Sustainable Design, established to ensure that Cornell architecture students and faculty are supported in their efforts to advance research and innovative design solutions associated with consequences of global climate change. Thank you to the Strauch brothers for their continuing support of this position.

Student ambassadors: Vanille Fricker (B.Arch. '19), Magdalena Zink (B.Arch. '19). Organized by Edgar A. Tafel Associate Professor Caroline O'Donnell, coordinated by Tess Clancy (M.Arch. ‘18).
The Preston H. Thomas series is funded through a gift to Cornell's College of Architecture, Art, and Planning from Ruth and Leonard B. Thomas of Auburn, New York, in memory of their son, Preston. The symposium events are free and open to the public.


Thursday, March 7

4 p.m.
All school reception with a "wasted" menu

Milstein Hall Dome

5:15 p.m.
Keynote Address: Peter Van Assche (
Bureau SLA)
Abby and Howard Milstein Auditorium

  • Opening Remarks and Introduction by Edgar A. Tafel Associate Professor Caroline O'Donnell

6:45 p.m.
Q&A Discussion

Abby and Howard Milstein Auditorium

Friday, March 8

2 p.m.
Trash Talks Part I: "The City and The Circular Economy"

Abby and Howard Milstein Auditorium

  • Lectures by Juliette Spertus, Michaël Ghyoot, and Sabine Rau-Oberhuber

4:30 p.m.
Coffee Break

Milstein Hall Dome

5 p.m.
Trash Talks Part II: "Waste as Resource (The Circular Economy at the Material Scale)"

Abby and Howard Milstein Auditorium

  • Lectures by Billie Faircloth, Maria Aiolova, David Benjamin, and Meredith Miller
  • Closing discussion and remarks moderated by Peter van Assche


  • Peter Van Assche (keynote)
  • Maria Aiolova
  • David Benjamin
  • Billie Faircloth
  • Michaël Ghyoot
  • Meredith Miller
  • Sabine Rau-Oberhuber
  • Juliette Spertus