This manual distills a specific research seminar that was taught at the University at Buffalo into a generic structure of inquiry about infrastructure, using waste as its case study. The central focus of the seminar was about the implications of making invisible aspects of infrastructure visible, an especially difficult task in relation to the infrastructure of garbage. Given our lack of contact with waste infrastructure, how can research and design draw out and mediate our interface with wasted matter? How does one engage with an infrastructure that is thoroughly shrouded and difficult to access, and yet totally enmeshed with daily experience?
Learning from diverse trajectories of fieldwork and public performance such as anthropological participant-observation, performance art and installation practices, this seminar insisted that forms of architectural research participate in their site of inquiry, not merely analyze it. Thus, the seminar proposes that research is a critical component of how architectural practice and thought participates in public dilemmas (such as waste-making). Though research is an important mode of inquiry for many architects today, the forms that research takes are less considered, and were the focus of this seminar.
In order to explore different ways of doing research, the course was designed as a series of questions (included in the manual) about the nature of the “research site” and the methods of observation that accompany it. The semester began by identifying a research site within the waste stream through reading discussions and methodological case studies of different forms of observational practice. Following this, participants proposed a method of research that was sited within a particular system of waste processing and disposal. Research was conducted and the seminar presented its ongoing work in the form of a user’s guide.