Monday, August 16, 2010

moving trash underground

One use for pneumatic tube systems, that I have not previously covered on this blog, is garbage collection.

A recent exhibition at Gallery RIVAA explored the way that garbage moves through tubes under Roosevelt Island, New York. The Roosevelt Island underground pneumatic waste disposal system was constructed in 1975. Since the opening of the island, residents have emptied their waste into garbage chutes which feed into pneumatic pipes that are transferred to the system's main station and then compacted, sealed off and exported to a landfill. There are many other cities where similar systems are in place, including waste disposal systems in hospitals and nursing homes.

Fast Trash was described on the exhibition website as:
"Part infrastructure portrait, part urban history ... [drawing on] archival materials, original maps, photographs, drawings, diagrams and video interviews to bring an invisible system to the surface, and asks what a community built around progressive policies and technologies can teach us about how we choose our infrastructure"
The exhibition received a lot of attention from bloggers (green bloggers, urbanite bloggers, architectural bloggers, art bloggers, NYC bloggers) and others online, demonstrating a public fascination with this technology. I particularly like this image of those working with the system, depicted in a New York Times review:
"The staff of eight full-time engineers perform regular repairs and maintenance on the system, monitoring the vacuum seals and gauges, which are often on the fritz. They have halted the engines for residents who panicked about missing false teeth, wedding rings and pocket books that have been sucked under the city’s streets. And even let them sift through a 12-ton pile of refuse"
For those interested, the exhibition website has a documentary, another site an interview with curator/architect Juliette Spertus, and here and here are some images from the exhibition. I would love to have seen the exhibition. With its video interviews with engineers, maps and other artefacts, it seems like an incredibly ethnographic portrait of pneumatic tubes; one that has captured the public's imagination.

Images from envac and fast trash.

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