Infrastructure as Place: Wastewater Treatment Facilities in Community


School of Architecture | Graduate Center for Planning and the Environment •
Student | Simon Betsalel •
Faculty | David Burney, Signe Neilsen, John Shapiro

Infrastructure in America is in decline and there is an urgent need to address funding deficits, environmental injustices, and urban sustainability. The siloed world of infrastructure can be rethought to help address these challenges and provide broader public benefit. A more visible presence of these systems can help the public understand their function and importance. This Spring 2021 MS in UPM Demonstration of Professional Competence explores wastewater treatment facilities and makes placemaking recommendations for achievable and aspirational facility improvements.

Infrastructure in America is in decline and struggles with funding deficits, a legacy of environmental injustices, and environmental sustainability. Facilities can be rethought to address these challenges and provide improved public benefit.
This paper explores eight wastewater treatment facilities using a site assessment worksheet and desktop research. The results are used to derive a set of achievable and aspirational recommendations.
Infrastructure systems are visually disconnected, which undermines their critical importance. By increasing visual permeability it is possible to bring greater awareness to their functioning. This can be done by considering the edge condition, using a cohesive architectural style, and by being intentional with distinctive structural features.
Public art can be used for education and community engagement. Visible public art pieces will reinforce place character and build positive public perception. Engaging an artist early in design can lead to more meaningful art applications and can influence facility design.
The interior of wastewater treatment facilities are not in heavily populated areas. There is an opportunity for intentionality in landscaping and property buffers. On-site stormwater management and the use of native plants can provide lush habitat while lowering maintenance costs and improving appearance.
Wastewater treatment facilities are typically managed by a board of commissioners whose preferences and opinions shape facility investments and policy. Focusing on this group and the broader professional class can directly influence the role of infrastructure in the community.
Infrastructure facilities can offer community services through both physical design and intentional activation. A locality’s capital budget can be maximized through colocation of services and maintenance budgets reallocated by improving customer education through guided tours and demonstrations.