Material reuse has been a wildly popular trend in sustainable architecture over the last decade. Using old materials and giving them a new life in a building not only keeps those materials from wasting away in a landfill, but also adds a considerable amount of character to the finished project. Architect Alejandro Bahamón and artist Maria Camila Sanjinés were fascinated by the use of waste in architecture and decided to document 33 projects from around the world that extensively utilize a wasted material in their new book, REMATERIAL From Waste to Architecture. We had a chance to catch up with Alejandro Bahamón about his latest work -- read on for our exclusive interview!
What is most impressive about the curated collection of material reuse architecture that Bahamón and Sanjinés found is the creativity. Peach pits are used as flooring, tire treads are used as roofing material, and plastic water tanks are used as light fixtures. The designers of these projects worked closely with the materials and created beautiful, organic buildings that certainly don’t look trashy, even if they are made from waste.
Now, this isn’t your typical architecture look-book with huge glossy photos — this is more of an idea book, full of diagrams, construction photos, and info on reclaiming processes, along with great photos of the final product. You’ll recognize a couple of the more famous material reuse projects like the Big Dig House or the Heineken Bottle that can be used as a building material, but for the most part the projects are relatively unknown and totally beautiful. We had a chance to speak with Alejandro Bahamón about his new book to get a little more insight into material reuse in architecture.
Inhabitat: What originally inspired you to write an architecture book about utilizing waste as a construction material?
Alejandro: We originally started researching recycling in architecture, and we realized that the reuse of structures goes back a very long time; roman structures converted into churches and then converted into libraries and so on. So we wanted to look for a new perspective in this field and that is how we came across some projects that reused materials for their construction. We decided to narrow down our research and focus on this topic.
Inhabitat: What are the main challenges associated with reusing waste?
Alejandro: Probably the most important challenge when recycling is to keep in mind that reusing the materials should not waste more energy (water for washing, transportation, heating, etc.) than using a new material. Another challenge would be to know as much as possible the properties of the materials in order to improve their functionality in their new use; this is a concept that some architects and designers call “super-use”.
Inhabitat: Do you think reusing materials is more economical than new materials or does it just depend on the project?
Alejandro: It definitely depends on the project. In some cases like Millegomme Cascoland in Cape Town, South Africa, the material was just there, the process was very simple and the costs in general were just a few hours of the community work. While in other cases, like the Pittsburgh Glass Center, the recycling of glass was probably more expensive than using new materials but the concept itself of the project asked for this recycling involved in the making.
Inhabitat: What was the most innovative material reuse you came across while writing the book?
Alejandro: More than innovative materials, we were impressed by innovating ideas of how to reuse. We are always surrounded by materials as “waste” but not all of us have the talent to see a new life in them. The floors made from Peach Pips in South Africa or the Penumbra Installation made of broken umbrellas is a perfect example of this.
Inhabitat: What materials are out there that are “no-brainers,” and should be used all the time?
Alejandro: Pallets are definitely one of the most basic, versatile and easy to reuse structures. The fact that they are used to ship food and medical supplies to emergency situations (earthquakes, tsunamis, etc.) makes them an even more obvious construction material.
Inhabitat: Shipping containers are one of the most well-known reuse materials available for construction. What do you think about their use, and how practical do you really think they are?
Alejandro:Containers have been reused for many years precisely for their optimal properties – they are transportable, stackable, easy to assemble and the container itself already fulfills the principle of an architectural structure. The only big issue about containers is isolation.
Inhabitat: Besides saving material from the landfill, what are some of the other benefits of reusing materials instead of new?
Alejandro: Besides the fact that reusing promotes creativity, reused materials have a unique character that bring a special soul to the projects. The history of each material, their shapes and textures offer inimitable qualities to each project.
Inhabitat: If you were going to build a house for yourself, what materials would you use?
Alejandro: It depends on the site we will build that house. If it was a rooftop in Barcelona, we would use one of the thousands of containers from the port; if we were building a house in a Caribbean island we would use PET bottles. The most important thing that we have learned about recycling is to be aware of the surrounding environment and what it can provides us with.
Photo Credits: From Rematerial: From Waste to Architecture. Copyright (c) 2010. With permission of the publisher, W.W Norton & Company, Inc.