Designing reflexive spaces with human waste ecologies: Cases of regenerative-activist metabolism in Brussels, Berlin and Hong Kong

Research output: Unpublished conference presentation (presented paper, abstract, poster)Conference presentation (not published in journal/proceeding/book)Academic researchpeer-review


Responding to ever-increasing sanitation gaps in the face of volatile climate, demographic changes, and regulatory challenges in the global north, designers are increasingly working with urban communities on the regenerative reuse of human waste. When acute water shortages and prohibitive infrastructure costs prevent underprivileged populations in the global south from obtaining adequate sanitation, exploring alternatives to wasteful flush toilets in the ‘developed world’ can be considered a matter of ‘fairness above entitlement.’ In the context of agroecological urbanization, the regenerative reuse of human waste contributes a city’s food-enablement by proliferating feeds and safeguarding ecosystem functioning. Territorial metabolism then is reframed from the vantage of ecological community enablement as urban households become contributing actors in the food-energy nexus. With households as networked sites of nutrients cycling and boosting local value chains, it challenges conventional eco-efficiency approaches by entangling urban communities and the living environment into a dynamic, co-evolutionary whole.
To overcome widespread inertia and scepticism, regenerative-activist designers not only embrace cross-sectoral, intergenerational, and localized expertise, but also harness joint investment strategies and distributed responsibilities over time that prompt all involved to exchange positions and open up perspectives. It allows for a reflexive as well as creative space to emerge that is the foundation for more-than-human empathy and collective action. This unfolding of possibilities within a gradually deepening understanding of and connection to the given condition grows the regenerative capacity in people and communities who inhabit and maintain their eco-sanitation systems.
This paper introduces three current cases of regenerative metabolic design interventions in Brussels, Hong Kong, and Berlin. The research evaluates how through joint manifestation with ecologists, architects, and concern groups is spurring blueprints, placemaking, and entrepreneurship whereby low-cost regenerative sanitation becomes an integral part of local heritage and resource conservation. The cases eloquently suspend a narrow focus on predictability, fragmented institutional structures, and economic pressures for scalability common in urban development. Also, they suggest that regenerative metabolic interactions with the environment and transformative societal changes begin with the practitioner’s critical capacity for scrutinizing how mobilizing positions and perspectives is shaping the world one is designing into and for.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 25 Nov 2021
EventThe 14th Conference of the International Forum on Urbanism: From dichotomies to dialogues: connecting discourses for a sustainble urbanism - Delft University of Technology, Delft, Netherlands
Duration: 25 Nov 202127 Nov 2021


ConferenceThe 14th Conference of the International Forum on Urbanism
Internet address


  • Collectivised eco-sanitation
  • urban agroecological transition
  • developmental change processes
  • possibility studies
  • community enablement

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Urban Studies
  • Development

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