Concrete Cycles

Janima Nam

One of the videos shown as part of an installation for the Cycles exhibition at the 2022 Lisbon Architecture Triennale is somehow both compelling and awkward to watch at the same time. In contrast to the often fast-paced, violent spectacle of watching a building being demolished by a wrecking ball, here, the building is being slowly, painstakingly ‘disassembled’. With the help of a power crane, heavy concrete slabs are gingerly picked up by enormous tongs, reminiscent of the carnival game where one tries to capture a chosen toy using mechanical claws.

Like in the game, the key is care and patience: the items being handled must not be dropped or damaged. When a building becomes obsolete, its demise is not often associated with delicate handling. More often, it is knocked down, crushed, pulverized, or even blown up and reduced to a pile of rubble in a matter of minutes. This pile is then removed and discarded to make way for new construction.

Some 30–40% of all the Earth’s waste is produced by the building industry, a fact that has plunged the sector into an existential crisis, which is being explored in the 6th Lisbon Architecture Triennale whose theme and title, Terra, focuses on circular economy strategies and concepts in architecture. The Triennale is divided into four main exhibitions plus independent projects. The Cycles exhibition, curated by Pamela Prado and Pedro Ignacio Alonso, addresses the question of reconsidering architecture’s approach to material.

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