Seeing Toxic Airs


Workshop exploring ways to sense, see, think and understand the politics of the air above and around San Jose, Costa Rica.

Seeing Toxic Airs was a 10-day workshop facilitated by Rosa Whiteley under the invitation of the School of Architecture Universidad Veritas, Costa Rica.

Seeing Toxic Airs encouraged students to sense, smell and map atmospheric particulates, from their earthly beginnings, to the places in which they return back to earth. Students visited clouds of cement industries and pineapple conglomerates, unraveling the intricate power dynamics between corporations and atmospheric ecology.

In San Jose, concrete dominates the landscape, earning the nickname “Cementazo” due to the cement industry’s pervasive corruption and monopoly on architectural practices.  Holcim, a major global concrete supplier, shrouds Agama Caliente, a neighbourhood on the outskirts of San Jose, in clouds of cement, corroding structures, polluting airways, and stifling vegetation. Despite assurances of containment, the factory clandestinely releases new cement dust clouds each morning— as reported by local individuals—encroaching on the surrounding town’s inhabitants and environment. This unchecked spread of airborne cement, that is shurned to feed countless infrastructural projects that fuel political campaigns­—leads to widespread health issues like silicosis and asthma, as lungs solidify and metal roofs corrode in the castic air. On the public road entering Holcim, ants even choose to build their nests with cement dust.

The workshop explored ways to sense and identify atmospheric conditions, through discrete sensing, hand-held devices and mechanisms, and digital modelling of air currents, particulates, and built environments. The students collected an archive of evidence and living proxies of cementitious pollution across species, soils and architectures.