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Environmental Architecture (MA)

Xiangying Elaine Sun, He Zhai, Qiran Wang

Our group is a dedicated student and passionate advocate for environmental justice. Through our dedication to environmental architecture, we seek to bridge the gap between scientific knowledge and public understanding, effectively communicating the intricate relationships between pollutants, ecosystems, and the well-being of all living beings.

Illegal emissions at night in União Cooperativa Agrícola in Alvito, Portugal

The project at hand is centred on investigating the impact of industrial emissions on air quality and public health caused by the olive pomace factories in the Alentejo region of Portugal. The objective is to identify the sources of pollution and quantify the levels of toxic particles present in the air, with a particular focus on how these particles contribute to the weight of the atmosphere. This research has an eco-centric focus, as it aims to promote the well-being of humans and nonhumans living in the Alentejo region by raising awareness about the harmful effects of industrial emissions on the environment and public health. By understanding the sources and dispersion patterns of industrial emissions, policymakers and stakeholders can take informed decisions to reduce emissions and promote a healthier environment for the community. Our objective is to identify the witnesses undertaking the weight of the air in this environment and gather various testimonies from them. By amplifying the voices of those affected, we strive to create awareness and foster dialogue, and then to use these testimonies to advocate for change.

The Alentejo region in Portugal has seen a rapid expansion of monoculture olive cultivation in the past two decades, resulting in changes to the landscape and widespread pollution of the air, water, soil, flora, fauna, and human inhabitants. The main product of olive agriculture is olive oil, and the region now boasts one olive oil factory and three waste disposal factories.

One of the main ways the project achieves this goal is by capturing and recording testimonies from a diverse range of people living in the region, including farmers, factory workers, and residents. To understand and address the issues of our project, we find testimonies provide insight into the ways that different individuals and communities are impacted by the weight of the air. This is also placed on the relationship of stickiness across objects of concern, shown from a micro-scale perspective. By capturing these testimonies, the project is able to amplify the voices of those who are most affected by industrial emissions and bring attention to the ways that their livelihoods are being impacted. One of the key goals of ‘The Weight of the Air’ project is to highlight the impact of toxicities on the region's human and non-human beings. This includes the impact on local flora and fauna, as well as the ways that toxicities are impacting the cultural heritage and traditions of the region. By documenting the impact of toxicities on non-human beings and cultural heritage, the project is able to emphasize the importance of preserving and protecting these important aspects of the region.


Burning, emitting, falling. Smoke permeates into the air, traveling with the wind and leaving particles behind. The air in Alentejo seems much heavier because of the toxic ingredients inside.

In the past 20 years, the scale of monoculture olive cultivation in the Alentejo region has expanded rapidly, changing the original landscape and polluting the air, water, soil, local flora and fauna and inhabitants. The main product of olive agriculture is olive oil, and within 20 years there have been one olive oil factory and three waste disposal factories settled in this area. Lagar do Marmelo, in Ferreira do Alentejo, belongs to Sovena group and is the only one factory in Alentejo producing extra virgin olive oil.

Estimation of PM10 falling area between October and February from AZPO factory

Proximity Monitoring

In order to know the actual air conditions near the factory, we contacted Ismael Casotti Rienda, a researcher focusing on air pollution, who did monitoring jobs near Rosa Dimas’s house to see the PM concentrations caused by AZPO factory. He mentioned that the concentration of particulate matters is not only affected by the wind direction, it is very hard to predict and analyze pollution situations based merely on wind effect. According to the wind rose and pollution rose, combined with the geographical relations between the factory and Rosa’s house, we can infer that the PM concentration reaches to its highest level on WSW direction. However, the total concentrations from all directions do not show much differences as we think, because the pollutants may come from different factories namely Parque Agro Industrial do Penique in Odivelas or even União Cooperativa Agrícola in Alvito. So, again, we use our previous calculation results to estimate the spread range of PM10 and find that it is highly possible the 3 factories have an integrated impact on one spot, which also shows the comprehensive influence of the 3 factories on the whole Alentejo area. Another thing worth noticing is even the monitoring results are done directly in Rosa’ house which is only 200m away from AZPO factory, they are still within the legal limit set by EU regulations although they are already much higher than what we can search on online platform. So, the thresholds in these regulations become questionable.

Olive flowers blooming under the smoke

Definition of "Stickness"

During each shoot, the smoke from the factory was always in the adjacent olive groves, a phenomenon that could be clearly seen with the eye, between the rows of olive trees, where the smoke was so thick that the air felt like it was sticky, invading the mouth and nose and occupying the respiratory tract. How do the olive trees and the various creatures that grow and live in the smoke for long periods of time feel and how are they affected? A concept of stickiness will be presented here to reflect the relationship between them.

For this chapter, the speculative link between the concepts is the result of the situation description, suggesting that one can understand alternative possibilities for adhesion relations. This concept is derived from the temporal and spatial sharing of the particulate matter of smoke with the seasonal flowering of olive trees in the previous chapter section of the study. At the same time, the flowering olive pollen then acts as a force that makes adhesion possible, and the substance pollenkitt again gives it the ability to spread and carry, so that the term adhesion is first introduced in this project. As the complexity of the relationship between the objects under study has been explored, the meaning it conveys has been constantly updated and refined, and we now seek to elaborate it as a state in which a substance or surface is sticky and adhesive, which describes the ability of objects and surfaces to hold together or adsorb other objects after contact, a state that can be caused by the chemical properties of the substance, surface tension or adhesives, charge attraction, etc. conditions.

Olive flower

Royal College of Art