What a breathtaking site! We arrived to the Sims MRF in Sunset Park just before dusk and were treated to a spectacular sunset over the water. Designed by Selldorf Architects, the building is essentially a shed along a pier, which, unlike its neighbors, was raised to account for rising water levels and stayed dry during Hurricane Sandy. Barges carrying waste from New York City’s boroughs (mostly Queens and the Bronx) dock and unload directly into the open warehouse, and trucks pull up on the other side. It’s a spare, thoughtful space that is light and restrained, much like the galleries the designer is better known for. The bright green and yellow machinery it houses (giant magnets, sorters, crushers) is where the real action is, and our tour guide, Eadaoin, explained each one. Looking down from the platforms above, we were mesmerised by the enormous piles of materials being moved by the machines below.
Sunset Park MRF is currently running under capacity (it wasn’t under full operation during our visit, for example). That’s right—New Yorkers don’t recycle much. We divert less than 20% of our waste to recycling streams; the rest goes to the landfill. But Sims, which built the project in collaboration with the city, is banking on an increase in that number over the coming years. Within its education center (open to the public and schools by appointment), there is a nicely designed exhibit about waste, classroom space, and a viewing platform. The hope is that making these processes visible and elevating industrial infrastructure through good design will go a long way toward changing attitudes and behaviour.