Toxicity Distributed — Post-extractivism Economies

AHORA (Linda Schilling Cuellar and Claudio Astudillo Barra)

Toxicity Distributed explores future economies through a new array of Green New Deal transition jobs that deal with mining’s environmental liabilities.

The project identifies as a testbed the significant mining waste and residues in the Coquimbo region of Chile. It proposes to use them as handcrafted input so that small communities in the area, through their generational crafts, can shape marketable design prototypes, awakening an emphatic economy of slow remediation that returns agency to people once expelled from this landscape. Material sampling and testing will precede this process to understand its composition and toxicity and encapsulate it for handling and subsequent prototyping. In this way, by understanding that pollution is relational (Ureta 2018), the accumulation of toxicity in the area will be distributed in different parts of the territory, in an off-site collective remediation strategy, through the atomization of the environmental liabilities through multiple small-scale objects decompressing the communities‘ ecological stress.

Toxicity Distributed’s timeline is ahead of the 2037 scheduled closure of the Los Pelambres Mine, opening questions on how to imagine the post-extractivism future in areas whose current economic engine is mainly mining.

The first stage of the project consists of preliminary prototyping of material collected from three representative surpluses: tailings, the wood of bioaccumulated eucalyptus, and rock waste from slag heaps. With these, the project team will elaborate material models according to popular and historical crafts belonging to local communities.

The second stage consists of working with these communities to articulate an economy on a local scale that transforms the material prototypes into design objects. With a unique composition and appellation of origin, these crafted objects will have the added value of enacting solidarity by carrying the waste burden out of the mine’s area of influence as a testimony to obsolete extraction methods.

In this way, Toxicity Distributed proposes regaining agency with bottom-up design operations that bridge past landscapes drafted by one entity, the mine, to a future drawn by a collective, the community. And in doing so, understanding what a just transition might look like if we take action now and deal with these new landscapes as the mine creates them.


AHORA is a research and design practice lead by Linda Schilling Cuellar  (Bachelor Architecture, Federico Santa María Technical University, 2011; MS Architecture and Urban Design, GSAPP, 2018) and Claudio Astudillo Barra (Bachelor Architecture, Federico Santa María Technical University, 2009), based in Santiago, Chile. Formed in 2020, it looks at extraction economies, with particular attention to the ones that take place in Chile, and asks what will happen after it’s all gone. To realize possible futures led by local communities, AHORA defends that we must understand the transformed landscapes inherited by the current economic value-ways through the lens of what was and what could be moving towards a post-extractivism scenario.
By looking at the documents that enclose most of the knowledge about the territories and the Environmental Impact Assessments, AHORA takes on new mediums of representation to visualize and discuss the impacts of extractions with local organizations and academia.  
Working in close collaboration with designers, biologists, and engineers, AHORA draws the story of a place through its human and non-human inhabitants’ relationships to challenge and propose new ways of being together.