Would standing on a towering mound of trash convince you to consume less? Sound the Mound tackles this question with projects that reframe our relationship to waste. This project is a collaboration between partners who are either directly or indirectly contributing to a data-driven public art installations, public exhibitions that highlight how our actions impact our ecosystems, and high school workshops that help ninth graders learn the importance of becoming more sustainable. Each partner is essential to this project.

Freshkills Park, one of the world’s largest landfill

Freshkills Park was an ideal partner, due to the park’s unique history, as well as their commitment to develop programming emphasizing environmental sustainability and new approaches to impacting consumer awareness. At 2,200 acres, Freshkills Park is almost three times the size of Central Park, however it also sits upon the site of the Freshkills Landfill, which was the largest landfill in the world before its closure in 2001. The New York departments of Sanitation and Parks and Recreation, together with the Freshkills Alliance engineered the landscape with layers of soil and infrastructure, to become a place for wildlife, recreation, science, education, and art. While the first phase of the park will open to the public in 2020, Freshkills currently hosts Discovery Day events giving local residents access to hundreds of acres and miles of trails in the otherwise closed site, with opportunities to explore and learn about the landfill-to-park project.

Our collaborators at Freshkills Park include Mariel Villere (Manager for Programs, Arts and Grants), Cait Field (Research Program Manager), Megan Moriarty (Communications and Programs Coordinator), Max Piana (Hutcheson Memorial Forest Land Manager, Rutgers), Terrence Caviness (educational facilitator during Gaynor McCown collaboration), and Catherine Montalvo (educational facilitator during Gaynor McCown collaboration).


Arable Labs, a climate monitoring and management system

Arable Labs is a pioneer of data-driven land management and it is their belief that people can solve natural resource challenges if they possess the right tools and information. Arable enables people to understand the environment around them by collecting scientific quality measurements on rainfall, crop water demand, water stress, microclimate, canopy biomass, and chlorophyll levels through their Arable Mark data sensors. Our partnership with Arable represents a opportunity to further understand and capture the unique ecology of Freshkills. Arable was interested in partnering with us in order to understand how its sensors could be used not just to explore ecological metrics, but also to create narratives around the park and its environment using the data in compelling, innovative and informative ways.

Our collaborators at Arable Labs include Adam Wolf (Founder and CEO) and Jess Bollinger (VP of Strategic Partnerships).


Parsons School of Design

John Roach, Assistant Professor of Fine Arts at Parsons, and Andrew Shea, Assistant Professor of Integrated Design at Parsons, found a starting place for this evolving project within the Transdisciplinary Design MFA program. They shaped “Sound the Mound” into a multi-semester project that addresses complex issues of climate, sanitation, landfill reclamation, public parks, cellular technology, public art, sonification and more. The first course in Fall 2016 brought together Freshkills Park, Arable Labs, and graduate students from The New School to develop projects that translate the environmental data from Arable software into sensory experiences that make Freshkills park more vibrant and enjoyable by inviting New Yorkers to explore it remotely or on site.

Students visited Freshkills Park twice, once to experience “Discovery Day”, a rare opportunity for the general public to visit the park, and once to immerse themselves in the site. Over the course of the semester, the class benefited from a focus on sensory ethnography as they developed their research into prototypes that responded to the unusual conditions of the future park. They also heard from numerous experts: Mariel Villere (Manager for Programs, Arts and Grants), Cait Field (Research Program Manager), Max Piana (Hutcheson Memorial Forest Land Manager, Rutgers), Dylan Gautier (artist who has collaborated with Freshkills Park), Adam Wolf (Founder and CEO of Arable Labs) and Jess Bollinger (VP of Strategic Partnerships of Arable Labs) Alexandra Horowitz (author of the book “On Looking”), Timothy Jachna (Visiting Scholar from The Hong Kong Polytechnic University), as well as nearly a 40 students and faculty who visited during final presentations and offered each group feedback about their prototypes.

Three student groups created three strikingly different projects:

  • Botanical Transmissions – A curious exploration of the effects and possibilities of blending design, sound, and data in order to complement nature. The project translates data into music-by-and-for-plants using a genetic algorithm that responds to the health of the plants at the park. Students involved in this project include Noah Litvin, Christopher Lopez, and Tanvi Nitin Dhond. Learn more about that project in our details about the course and download their case study.

  • Vitality Rhythm – A sensory experience that allowed visitors to perceive the “vibes” of the park. It aims to give people at Freshkills Park the opportunity to form an empathetic and emotional connection with nature. Students involved in this project include Chengcheng Teng, Juyeon Lee, and Oliver Arellano. Learn more about that project in our details about the course and download their case study.

  • Replay Fest – This project acknowledges that Freshkills Park is an important symbol of renewal, but also highlights that the fact that the waste that once traveled there from all of New York City is now being transported to other states. Replay emphasizes the urgent need to change the waste system as well as our consumer behavior, and identifies education as the most effective way to transform people’s perceptions and actions. Students involved in this project include Carolina Corseuil, Alice Hue Lu, and Kate Fisher. Learn more about that project in our details about the course and download their case study.

John and Andrew are teaching a follow-up course in Spring 2018. This course, open to all graduate students from The New School, takes its inspiration from Botanical Transmissions which the students open sourced with an MIT Creative Commons License. The Spring 2018 cohort is an eclectic mix of graduate and undergraduates from Product Design, Architecture, Transdisciplinary Design, Design and Technology, Mannes, Environmental Studies, and Interdisciplinary Science. See more details on our Collaboratory site when that semester concludes.


Gaynor McCown Expeditionary Learning School

Our partnership with Gaynor McCown Expeditionary High School was inspired by the work done by the “Replay Fest” group (Carolina Corseuil, Alice Hue Lu, and Kate Fisher). John and Andrew recognized that while students had not engaged substantively with local communities in Staten Island during the Fall 2016 course, a partnership with a local school would help the project to develop with important stakeholders and community members who can regularly visit the park. With the help of Freshkills Park, John and Andrew established a partnership with Gaynor McCown, who were interested in developing experiential learning tools for their students, focussing on the topic of sustainability which was already a central part of their Living Environments’ science curriculum.

Replay not only highlighted the urgent need for education that engages students with the impact of their choices, but it also highlighted a need of Freshkills Park to expand its own educational initiatives. While the approach and outcomes of the collaboration with Gaynor McCown are different than the Replay proposal, the idea of bringing in an education partner has endured as an important aim in our work The experiential curriculum that results from this partnership leverages the compelling presence of Freshkills Park (within walking distance of the school) to nudge students to become more sustainable by rethinking their consumption. John and Andrew were joined by Emma Eriksson (planning and facilitation) and Oliver Padilla (planning and audio-visual documentation), both of whom were second-year graduate students in the Transdisciplinary Department. Learn more about our first round of workshops and the curriculum we developed.

Our collaborators at Gaynor McCown Expeditionary High School include Kevi Langis (Curriculum Coordinator) and Heather Seltzberg (Living Environments’ Coordinator and Teacher)

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