Page 1

Dwelling on Waste university at buffalo - m.arch thesis project by andrew perkins + matthieu bain composed and edited by andrew perkins

To Matt, without whom I would have had to cut my bagels with a knife instead of a sawzall.

To the dream team of thesis committees: Joyce, for brains; Chris, for courage; Dennis, for heart.

To my parents, who - despite losing countless hours of sleep - were supportive and encouraging every step of the way.


Dwelling on Waste

Table of Contents Introduction




The Vagrant


The Architect


The Ecologist







Introduction Buffalo, NY. This is a city which was thriving just 50 years ago. But our post-industrial city has outgrown itself. A residue from outdated infrastructures and a dwindling population is left behind: abandoned buildings lining entire blocks. It’s a city whose residents and enterprises are struggling financially, a city – like many in America – facing a great deal of scarcity. Abandoned properties risk arson, drug activity, depreciated property values. Accompanying this is an alarming dependence on consumption, with little regard to the inevitable products of waste. And so continues the downward spiral. For $800, we have saved one such property from demolition. We’ve moved in without heat, electricity, or running water bringing ourselves from detached designer to deprived occupant. In situ research has provided the basis for the project, as we’ve begun to adapt the house and our lifestyles according to immediate conditions as well as foreseeable futures. Scavenged waste objects and materials from surrounding neighborhoods are used as an abundant source of building material, and through rationing and prioritization, necessary conditions for living will be met and, eventually, exceeded. The process of retrofitting the house while living in it explores an alternative form of domesticity, and limiting our material palette to those things that we can salvage explores issues of material recombinance. Need and resourcefulness become a means of inspiring new forms, assemblies, and organizations.


Dwelling on Waste

Cannibalizing the material and spatial remains of the post-industrial city creates a shifting domestic condition guided by necessity. This survivalist architecture must address utilities (water, heat), security, varying climatic conditions, food storage, and mental comfort, always adapting itself according to what it has on hand. This method of design and the restriction of material palette remove the superficial from the work. It addresses economy and sustainability through adaptive reuse of material and space. It confuses social order through a new mode of living, looking to squatting and alternative lifestyles as inspiration. It challenges political bodies by acting as a form of protest to the current housing policies: demolition as a remedy to urban decay. Ultimately, the result is a reconstituted house – not necessarily a final product to be put back on the market, but a prototype for a new type of adaptive reuse that catalogs a series of experimental interventions. Through these material reapplications we hope to not only achieve a space which can sustain us, but one which is highly accessible financially, surprisingly beautiful, and has a much healthier relationship with our natural environment.




Inquiry Initial research can be divided into three genres

I went to the woods because I

of literature that address foreseen aspects of the

wished to live deliberately, to

project. Crusonade novels help develop the mindset

front only the essential facts of

we’ll have as ‘urban survivors.’ Understanding and

life, and see if I could not learn

developing philosophies on poverty, living off the

what it had to teach, and not,

land, notions of ‘value,’ and the social ramifications

when I came to die, discover that

of breaking from the norm helps put into perspective

I had not lived.

real physical needs versus the distorted artificial and materialistic “needs” of today’s culture. Theoretical works cover material ecology, spatial understanding and treatment, modes of improvisation, and the existing roles of the architect and enable us to speculate alternative directions for the architectural profession, its role in society, and the means by which space is executed. Finally, a number of actualized projects, accounts, techniques, and guidelines then ground our visions in reality, giving complex social,


Dwelling on Waste

-Thoreau, ‘Walden’

Field Mapping

so Cru

nade Nove


Break from Society Into The Wild Krakuer

Homelessness Travles With Lizbeth Eightner


Walden; or, Life in the Woods Thoreau

Voluntary Poverty The Baron In the Trees Calvino

Use of Decaying Materials

Whole Earth Catalogue Baer

“Dross� Kallipoliti

Manual Of Improvisation


Adhocism Jencks


Levittown Retrofitted Cruz

Catagorizing Waste

Space and Memory

The Poetics Of Space Bachalard




Invisible Cities Calvino

Wasting Away Lynch

Rethink Building Systems



Material Description of Places

Scavenging+ Appropriation


Design Like You Give A Damn Sinclair

nje cture

Catalogue Of Resources



NYS Building Code

Dwelling On Waste


ary Document

Acceptable Standards

Building, Dwelling, Thinking


Field Guide

The Art and Science of Dumpster Diving Hoffman

Refabricating Architecture Kieran, Timberlake

Material Misuse

Shiela Kennedy


Cradle to Cradle McDonough, Braungart


o e h



economic, and political environments and articulate

Most architects in this highly

insertions of architecture which both challenge and


satisfy those bodies.

commissions and clients that affect

The time of industrialization is over. Mass production and urban expansion – children of the factories – are now fading, leaving a consumerist society helpless. Within this post-industrial era, society is beginning to choke on the very residues that commercialism creates. The production of waste, whether a result of manufacturing practices, neglect, or basic biological processes, is a unifying element that pervades even the most rigid social, political, and geographical structures. It is a part of a natural process of deterioration, and necessary for life. Architecture then, as a major contributor to material (and spatial) waste, needs to begin to address this condition. Although architects pride themselves as vanguards of


Dwelling on Waste




public life, are in fact committed to supporting the existing structure of authority as embodied in institutions of commerce and of its support political systems… [Architects] believe themselves to be creators, or innovators, when in actuality they are nothing more nor less than the executors of a physical and social order designed by those institutions presently holding political authority and power. - Lebbeus Woods, ‘Anarchitecture’

of culture-building, most have little idea what this means - slave, instead, to a higher commercialist agenda. As Americans, our identity of the consumer feeds into an economic and political Fresh Kills Landfill

system structured on built-in obsolescence, where the definition of “economic growth includes all expenditures, regardless of whether society benefits or loses,� including demolition, crime, divorce, cancer treatment, environmental cleanup, dump fees, and liquor sold to the homeless. As a whole, society’s definition of progress has been set askew. Since the value of objects and architecture is not so much dependent on physical properties as much as they are oscillating social standards, architects ironically have little direct control over architectural discourse. Culture, pride, competitiveness, economy, human nature, and conflict create a rift between social responsibility and social acceptance, leading



architects and users alike to approach their spaces

We enjoy the idea of ourselves as

with incredible conservatism. Off-white walls;

powerful, unique individuals;

eggshell if you’re feeling audacious. Gordon Matta-

and we like to buy things

Clark and Lebbeus Woods are two who directly

that are brand-new, made of

confront and defy the socio-political restraints that

materials that are “virgin.”

have tangled so many, enacting an almost anarchical

Opening a new product is a kind

means of operating – a style that Dwelling on

of metaphorical defloration:

Waste quickly adopts. In order for architecture to

‘This virgin product is mine, for

address the concerns of accumulating waste – and

the very first time. When I am

to reinvent itself as a profession which seeks cultural

finished with it (special, unique

advancement – value needs to be reexamined on a

person that I am), everyone is.

personal level.

It is history.

In Third world countries we often see entire communities embracing waste, from the toilet festivals in Mumbai to the billion (and quickly increasing) squatter settlements made from plastic bottles and car parts. Like every other organism and lifeform on the planet, they’ve integrated waste


Dwelling on Waste

- William McDonough, ‘Cradle to Cradle’

Matta-Clark, Splitting

Matta-Clark - The Carribean Orange

Buildings are fixed entities in the minds of most people. The notion of mutable space is taboo, especially in one’s own house. People live in their space with a temerity that is frightening. Home owners generally do little more than maintain their property. - Gordon Matta-Clark Inquiry


into cyclical processes that help sustain them. The result is not only a much less harmful impact on the environment, but many bouts of ingenuity with many things the developed world overlooks or takes for granted. By 2050, it’s predicted that the number of squatters in the world will surpass two billion, while academic institutions and mainstream design firms have hardly any interest in their needs, or the many billions more that face poverty, social inequality, or homelessness. Teddy Cruz is one of few architects using design to tackle social injustices and defuse political tensions

Kowloon Walled City

– using San Diego’s urban debris, of all things, as his medium. In Cruz’ work garage doors are used as walls, refrigerator doors as table tops, rubber tires (cut and folded) as retaining walls. Here the use of reclaimed materials





necessity first and foremost. By releasing objects


Dwelling on Waste

Michael Rakowitz - paraSITE

[Cruz’] work is not about foisting some

from those qualities that society has made inherent

arcane and incomprehensible aesthetic on

to them, he is able to realize a new, and perhaps more

unsuspecting subjects but about finding the

appropriate or more contextual, understanding of

measure of beauty in the actual circumstances

design. And this isn’t brought upon by any superficial

of their lives and situations and in responding

desire to just create something interesting, but

with authentic sensitivity to the particulars

through a close reading of the political and material

of site and need. The work is not “popular”

context across the Tijuana border.

in the sense of some phony channeling of the ineffable wisdom of the people but in the sense of offering a genuinely artistic collaboration with no compromise on either side. - Michael Sorkin

In cities, especially those in the Rust Belt, we’re starting to see some of the progress that can stem from outdated infrastructure (NYC Highline), vacant lots and unused rooftop space (urban farming), ‘green’ demolition (material salvage), and economic fluctuations (Detroit’s Car Wash Cafe: programmatic flexibility). Some populations are seeking out these cities – Freegans – to establish an alternative lifestyle, surviving almost entirely off the vast wastestream of food, clothing, and shelter. The well-known group of

Teddy Cruz - Tijuana Case Study

Buffalo Freegans have even levied their lawless but



good intentions into acquiring property (92 Bird Ave) by driving away crime and winning over locals. Adhocism – the improvisational repurposing of objects – is becoming more and more a fad in the design realm. While a light fixture made from thirty pairs of aviator sunglasses may be a beautiful and provocative piece, those glasses aren’t being repurposed. They’re brand new, simply displaced, arguably creating a more wasteful result. But the practice of looking past the typical use so engrained in materials is a good one and will play an integral role in our own material strategies and successes. Artist Antoni Eckmair is one such improviser, building with iron bed frames, cladding with shower doors, and sculpting with bowling balls. Waste is shown under a new light, revealing bits of culture, recalling memories, and redefining our understanding of value.


Dwelling on Waste

“It can be applied to many human endeavours, denoting a principle of action having speed or economy and purpose or utility. Basically it involves using an available system or dealing with an existing situation in a new way to solve a problem quickly and effectively. It is a method of creation relying particularly on resources which are already at hand.” - Charles Jencks, ‘Adhocism’

The scope of this project broad, some may think we need to hone in on a more particular subject – material transformation, urban regeneration, architectural




community building, etc. But the guerilla nature of it all – its physical reality – urges the addressing of Diller-Scofidio - NYC Highline

all of these issues and more. As we fully immerse our lives within the work, it’s the juxtaposition of these different elements that leads to the most productive achievements. We become something of schizophrenics – assuming the identities of the squatter, the neighbor, the builder, the hoarder, the home owner, the environmentalist, the architect... The most successful moments within the house arise when each of these characters speak harmoniously. The following narratives begin to outline some of those internal conversations.



The Vagrant

The Vagrant The end of summer is the easiest time to be homeless. The weather is nice, fresh food is available in gardens and on fruit trees, and there is something about that time of year that makes people toss out all of the junk they bought on a whim to deal with the heat. College students changing apartments, failed garage sales, house renovations; the streets are lined with these treasures, as if on display. It’s strange seeing a city with such an issue of poverty, yet so many wasted resources. We came to Buffalo with very little, drawn here by its unusual condition - the booming city turned ghost town - in hopes of reaping some of its leftovers. We had hoped to find refuge on Bird Avenue, where there’s a famed squatter house. The Freegans’ urban survival expertise, an exchange of stories, and a roof over our heads for a few days would be a great start


Dwelling on Waste

Nature was here something savage and awful, though beautiful. I looked with awe at the ground I trod on, to see what the Powers had made there, the form and fashion and material of their work. This was that Earth of which we have heard, made out of Chaos and Old Night. Here was no man’s garden, but the unhandselled globe. It was not lawn, nor pasture, nor mead, nor woodland, nor lea, nor arable, nor waste land. It was the fresh and natural surface of the planet Earth, as it was made forever and ever, -to be the dwelling of man, we say, -so Nature made it, and man may use it if he can. -Thoreau, ‘Ktaadn’ The Vagrant


to our lives here, but we did not find the warmth and wisdom we sought. The squatters had won the rights to the home – and found it appropriate to guard their new material possession – as the consumerists’ lifestyle commands – from anyone touching, talking about, or looking at it. But the weather is warm. A patio umbrella roof over a Styrofoam bed keeps off most of the late summer rain, and with a thick blanket covering your face and ankles the bugs don’t bother too much. There are a few places where we’ve set up camps like this around the city; it’s in the forgotten spaces behind warehouses, next to train tracks, and in an abandoned mini-golf course on the edge of a neighborhood where we’ve come to rest. Some like us take their homes with them as they move about, but when materials are so easy to come by, we can afford to keep several homes


Dwelling on Waste

– storing them away until they’re needed again. It’s let us travel light and unnoticed as we tour the city for better holdouts. The days growing shorter and the nights colder, eventually a better holdout is needed for the Buffalo’s harsh winters. Abandoned houses here are everywhere, but it’s tough to keep even negligent city officials and owners from evicting squatters very long, even if you are helping maintain the property (and with it the

The Vagrant


neighborhood). After a while combing the city’s streets for trash we know which parts are rough, which have materials regularly available, which would overlook the activities of two scavengers, and with a list of foreclosed homes about to be publicly auctioned we’re able to find 245 Southampton. From the bits of government money saved by scavenging we become homeowners for just $800. Without heat; without running water; without electricity, we move in amongst the clutter and decay. Clothes, toys, legal documents, bank statements, several pieces of furniture, and more shoes than we’re able to count; the floors are covered, and we wonder briefly why the last ones here had left their entire material lives behind. The mess, an eye-(and nose) sore for most, is a welcome head start on materials. Anything that isn’t completely water-logged, moldy, or covered with slugs is sorted and saved for future


Dwelling on Waste

use, and several things are put to use immediately; pieces of plastic are hung to skirt out incoming water from holes in the roof, and – in light of the mess and approaching temperature drops – a smaller shelter is made in the attic with a pool cover and bedframes hung from the ceiling.

The Vagrant



Dwelling on Waste

The Vagrant



Dwelling on Waste

The Vagrant


Using some of the tricks we’ve picked up over the summer we stay fairly comfortable, using the grocery store around the corner for a toilet and sink or the rarely used gym locker room for a shower. But the nights are getting colder than we can bear. We’re in desperate need of a reliable heat source to make it through Buffalo’s notorious winter. Luckily, we find an old double barrel stove in one of the abandoned houses nearby. We put it in the middle of the house, right where an old exhaust chimney went up through the roof. Cutting back the walls and attic floor away from the stove lets us use the cheapest chimney pipe available without chancing any fires. Modified with a cooking surface and a smoker, the whole set-up cost just $300, and has been crucial to our survival.


Dwelling on Waste

While working on the stove we’ve become more settled in the house, finding ways to store water, refrigerate food, keep people from entering at night, and to light the house as the days grow shorter. And with these things in place we feel ready to share our home, gathering some friends in the area who are also jobless and broke, to celebrate and give thanks. Lighting up all the candles, eating and drinking and laughing; our neighbors tell us they could feel the life come back to the house that night. With the stove in place, we begin to do everything as close to it as possible. We cook on the stove and eat by the stove. We work near the stove and at night we sleep along either side of it on scraps of carpet padding. Though warm, it doesn’t stay comfortable long. Half your body gets too hot, and the other half ice-cold. So they we are, as if on a rotisserie, turning over constantly to even it all out.

The Vagrant



Dwelling on Waste

The Vagrant



Dwelling on Waste

The Vagrant



Dwelling on Waste

The Vagrant


Into January, temperatures are dropping below zero. Coming home from the day’s other tasks is dreadful. A bucket of water we’d used for mopping sits frozen, along with many of our edibles. Most of the heat goes straight up and out through a number of holes in the roof, and placing a hand over these you can very easily feel the suction. We quickly patch the last remaining holes with an old pool liner, and then stuff insulation - from the far back of the house - in between the rafters above the stove. The newly insulated attic stays warm for hours after the fire died out, and when we do have a fire going, our house is the warmest on the block, all without paying for fuel. Through the coldest part of the winter we work on the core of the house, improving the things that make it easier to live and work: more thermal barriers, running water, better storage systems, a more convenient way of getting upstairs. Past the harshest


Dwelling on Waste

part of it all, we regularly host dinners and celebrations…even entertain dates. Having made a number of friends - can collectors, neighbors, roofers, farmers - we’re able to build our knowledge and skills quickly. Learning of us, a number of people now come, excitedly telling of this or that: piles of rubbish down the block, a house about to be demolished next week, or even their own personal discards. Though trying to remain discreet to avoid city officials who might not sympathize with our ways of working, we’ve built up enough of a reputation for materials to start making their way to us.

The Vagrant



Dwelling on Waste

The Vagrant



Dwelling on Waste

The Vagrant



Dwelling on Waste

The Vagrant


As the weather becomes warm again we begin to spend more time outside and in the back part of the house. The piles of material we’ve hoarded over the winter are organized, making places to sit, to have barbeques, to plant, to walk, and to gather. Now working the ground, we hope to grow our own food to store away for next year.

48 Dwelling on Waste

The Vagrant


The Architect

The Architect Preciousness and fetishism within high design, monotony and detachment within low design; There’s a disconnect between our spaces and the people who inhabit them: with our materials and how they operate. By looking to the flexibility of materials which is so regularly overlooked, and by moving past professional and social taboos, we seek to create spaces which not only address cultural circumstances on a very intimate level, but to establish a new aesthetic which is at once modest and stimulating. The golfcourse dwelling on the brownfield site behind TOPS supermarket begins to explore the breadth and flexibility of our material palette. From the stockpiles we seek out tectonic elements, waterproof membranes, insulative layers, furnishings – ever mindful of weight and proximity to site as transportation costs. A collapsible wooden structure


Dwelling on Waste

Inflatable pool / waterproof membrane Sun umbrella / roof structure

Sharpened pile

Area rug / sleeping pad

Brush / wind + visual cover

Packing foam / insulation layer

is used with a fabric roof stretched across the top. A central pile connects the entire assembly to the ground and acts as a boundary between two sleeping areas. The dwelling considers and plays off site conditions – using surrounding landscaping as shelter from wind and as a privacy barrier. Finally the floor is insulated and carpeted for comfort. As more materials become available, the shelter transforms and is improved upon: a thick blue waterproof membrane replacing the fabric roof, and additional floor covering to keep pests away. conditions – using surrounding landscaping as shelter from wind and as a privacy barrier.

The Architect


As more materials become available, the shelter transforms and is improved upon: a thick blue waterproof membrane replacing the fabric roof, and additional floor covering to keep pests away. Another camp along I-190 and Niagara St explores the new possibilities set up by a change in site and a differing material palette. Along the backs of these buildings are materials of the industrial character: segments of pipe, pallets, corrugated fiberglass. Here, a skin is suspended from an existing metal structure, and a raised floor placed over the sharp plants. Acoustics from the nearby highway and wind from lack of vegetation cover are combated with a corrugated shield wrapped around the space. Despite the added barriers, a more rigid structure is needed for the upcoming colder months, so we head to Buffalo’s Foreclosure auction in search of a new site.


Dwelling on Waste

Bent fence / structure

Tar paper / waterproof membrane Window shades / skin

Corrugated plastic / wind shield Wood stick / tie anchor

Area rug / sleeping pad Wood + plastic palettes / sleeping platform

“The material qualities of contemporary surfaces that are the most intriguing are precisely those that are the most unstable, that put into question the singularity of material properties and the absoluteness of material definitions.” - Sheila Kennedy, ‘Material Presence’ The Architect


In touring potential houses it’s hard to get a sense for what they can become – our material palette still forever unpredictable. We don’t know exactly where we’ll source materials from, what kind of problems we’re to find as we pull things apart, or what kind of people we’ll run into - friend or foe. We seek a house that’s deteriorated far beyond usual standards of comfort: one that speaks to us…whose very deficiencies foster creative solutions. For $800, 245 Southampton does just that. Built in 1900, the house is small enough for us to handle. The large backyard provides possibilities for agriculture, landscaping, material storage, and recreation. It’s near enough to public transportation and other facilities. And the neighborhood, though struggling, contains a community house, cooperative garden, chicken coop, and tool library. Despite twelve years of abandonment, it still contains many of the remnants from the previous tenants: a head start in building materials.


Dwelling on Waste

The Architect



Dwelling on Waste

The Architect


Noticing substantial water problems, a waterproof membrane is quickly added to parts of the roof assembly where the fix is manageable. Largely, habitable space is designated to the front of the house. The water and structural problems of the back can be dealt with as more appropriate materials are accumulated and livability established. Much of the front space also uninhabitable, we create a shelter within the shelter; Suspending a solar pool cover from the ceiling creates a retreat which helps retain body heat while sleeping – a confined space that can sustain us until a heat source is established. With temperatures dipping into the 30’s and 40’s at night, the tent-like shelter is inadequate and does nothing to keep us warm while moving about the rest of the house late at night or early in the morning.

60 Dwelling on Waste

The Architect


Heat as first priority, the house begins to shift

more un-insulated pipe saves money, keeps

accordingly. A central hearth is desired, but the existing

less heat from escaping up the chimney,

brick chimney there is in poor condition. Removing

opens the space which becomes the new

the chimney and cutting back the surrounding walls,

center of activity, and ultimately challenges

the spaces on the first floor become more connected,

typical responses to building codes.

more open. To comply with NYS building code, we can either use insulated chimney pipe to run through the floor or create a clearance to combustibles of 18� from the chimney. Since insulated pipe is $100 per 2’ section, the first floor walls and attic floor are cut back to accommodate the given clearance. The use of


Dwelling on Waste

The Architect


64 Dwelling on Waste

The Architect


Spaces shift in an acknowledgment of changing environmental challenges and our ability to overcome or integrate through material interventions. Eating, cooking, sleeping, and leisure spaces are all reorganized around a central heat source. With this, basic systems for lighting, water, food storage, lounging, and cooking, are quickly established. And as more materials are brought in, the spaces and systems rapidly evolve to become more effective and more comfortable.


Dwelling on Waste

The house can now start to address more culturally rooted human needs: social interaction, tradition, ritual. It becomes the venue for the annual thanksgiving dinner which has become tradition amongst our friends. The guests quickly adapt to the house’s peculiarities, drawn together not by marble floors or silver dining utensils, but by a fire-smoked turkey, by intrigue and speculation on what might change next, by the strange sense of comfort that such a humble space brings. The dinner becomes a pivotal point in the life of the house: a resuscitation of space that hadn’t seen true life in over twelve years.

The Architect


Beyond November, the warmth from the stove is quickly sucked out of the walls and windows of the house – all of them uninsulated. A thermal mass around the stove is built up out of bricks that once made up the chimney on the same footprint. Spare doors are used as large indoor shutters to help minimize window draft. And our fuel supply is reorganized into partition walls to continue closure of space and warmth, while drying it and minimizing its storage space. As the seasons progress and spring/ summer arrive the wall will exhaust itself, and the house can open its spaces once again.


Dwelling on Waste

The Architect


The small amount of rigid insulation we have is compounded in the attic above the stove, sealed with a vapor barrier, and given a layer of fiberglass insulation. The newly insulated pitched space acts as a pocket. With heat rising through the opening cut through the floor, the new sleeping space can very easily reach 70 or 80 degrees, despite temperatures outside approaching zero. Not being able to insulate the entire house, this is highly efficient in creating a habitable space with limited energy.

70 Dwelling on Waste

The Architect


Though the roof has been patched, there’s no telling for sure that it won’t leak until we remove the cheap asphalt roll roofing and install a new system. The rigid insulation is installed first (being water resistant) to accommodate for any minor leaks. A layer of plastic acts as a second layer of defense for this, as well as any condensation occuring as the heat of the stove hits the cold roof. Despite relatively poor R-values in these materials, we have two layers of insulation separated by an air space and sealed, making for a super insulated roof space.

72 Dwelling on Waste

The Architect


As the worst of the winter months pass, attention can again be given to places of leisure and relative luxury, of cooking, socializing, lounging. A steep stair toward the back of the house has been the only means of egress between floors, so the initial hole surrounding the chimney pipe is cut back further – doubled in size - to allow for a new circulation. The visual and sensual connections between floors become traversable, tangible. It also lets us access the stove to stoke the fire as it dies down late into the night, without having to endure the cold of the back room.


Dwelling on Waste

The Architect



Dwelling on Waste

The Architect 77

Furring strips and a final layer of plastic are added to the roof assembly. And scrap pieces of gypsum board are trimmed and collaged to fit as fireproofing – concentrated first around the stovepipe where it’s most needed. Because the screws that hold the drywall in place are concealed, it’s difficult to remove whole or clean pieces. The compromised edges are trimmed to smoothness, and the result is an ironic ‘designerly’ look. With warmer months approaching – spaces can start to shift in the other direction – toward openness. With the woodwall now exhausted, one of the spaces attached to living area is left undefined. Wanting to maintain flow through the house, a partition is built up parallel to the natural procession. This wall performs both as a lumber rack and as a divider of space, permeable to air and light.


Dwelling on Waste

The Architect



Dwelling on Waste

The Architect


The back of the house has largely been ignored as a space - its state of decay and inhabitability initially beyond our means of intervention. The floor having been partly removed by stepping through it – the finish walls and insulation removed to be repurposed in the attic – the structure of the room bows out heavily, soggy to the touch. Much of it has to be restructured and rebuilt, which creates the opportunity to open this large south-facing space to daylight and the backyard. The privacy granted from being in the back of the house also allows for more liberal aesthetic possibilities, hidden from inspectors and pedestrians.


Dwelling on Waste

The Architect


The floor joists and CMU foundation already near collapse are stripped, and a far more robust foundation installed in its place. The tire foundation requires about 300 pounds of dirt packed into each tire. The tires are a kind of permanent formwork for the dirt and act as oversized masonry units, staggered by course. Long pieces of rebar help tie the courses together and anchor it into the tampered ground beneath. With a new sill plate in place, the existing wall is lowered back down, also reinforcing its strength as a retaining wall. Opting not to rebuild the rotted floor, a triple-high space results.


Dwelling on Waste

Existing strip-footing

The Architect



Dwelling on Waste

The Architect


The south wall which faces the backyard is also in need of substantial rebuilding, its structural members saturated and sagging. The wall orginal wall - a dense layering of asbestos shingle, faux brick, furring strips, tar paper, wood siding, vertical planks, and finally 2x4’s - is replaced completely with a glazed system, embracing the space as a seasonal one. The new wall is set in two feet to provide sun shading for the summer months, and to leave access to the block retaining wall beneath, also in need of repair. Having this complete with operable openings permits through-ventilation for the entire house. The space still is not 100% waterproof, and we don’t have the means to repair the roof yet. With rain, the uneven basement floor collects standing water. By dry-paving this with bricks, we create a buffer zone for the water to stand and travel to the existing drainage pipe in the corner.


Dwelling on Waste

The Architect


The home, here, is a mutable space – a constant recognition of wavering environmental, economic, and material contexts. Sourcing materials from the local waste stream not only allows flexibility of space, but a unique and provocative, and somehow modest, aesthetic at once. Taking time to understand these materials - not only where they came from or what they were used for but their structural fibers and unrealized limitations - we find it’s the waterlogged firewood that begs to be by our sides: warm and dry a safe distance from the stove…the rubber tires in their complete refusal to deteriorate which provide the most resilient foundation for the house to rest…the rotting floor joists and southern wall which volunteer themselves to be removed so that the house can bask in open space and natural light. The architect becomes the alchemist. It’s the compromised materials that inspire exciting intervention, suggesting a new vernacular fitting to the modern American lifestyle: waste.


Dwelling on Waste

The Architect


The Ecologist

The Ecologist We break down the waste of others to expose its inherent value, then recombine this broken down waste to compound its value. Operating as a mediator between the destructive forces of nature and the destructive forces of man, we negotiate one against the other from inside the system. On bicycles we comb the streets, targeting areas by the garbage schedule, looking for those materials which have no destiny but decay or landfill. Among

inflatable pool, or a metal bedframe? Which tend to be under renovation and have excess or used construction material? Or an abundance of condemned properties?

these remains, clues to the complex material and

On the side of the road, in dumpsters, and in houses

social ecologies that exist among varying classes,

pending demolition, forgotten and unappreciated

ethnic groups, and neighborhoods; an insight into

materials speak to us. Devalued, they represent

the common and uncommon values of communities,

society’s true ethos, unadulterated. We choose to

of particular social customs, personal values, rituals,

liberate these, not only to better understand societal

impulses. Which areas recycle their used glass and

behaviors and values, but to act as a sort of orphanage

plastic? Which take their bottles back for deposit?

for the misfit materials – until they can mature into

In what part of the city might one find a discarded

other forms.


Dwelling on Waste

University fields

Mini-golf course

Industrial side lot


245 Southampton

Squatter camps & scavenging Range of Scavenging Camp Vacant Property

The Ecologist


To host some of the discards, a home is needed, and in a somewhat run-down neighborhood we find a small house abandoned for years and in need of immediate help: a forgotten house for forgotten objects. Immediately we submerse ourselves amongst the clutter and decay and begin to separate cotton from plastic, metal from paper, and glass from polyester and vinyl. The carpet soaked with water is pulled back from the waterlogged floor and all the surfaces that have already given in to natures sweeping decay are removed. Each material is reconsidered and reorganized according to its most basic physical properties: shape, size, texture, hardness, porosity. Separating them in this manner lets us consider the objects outside of the associations so strongly embedded in them already: a mountable coat rack, rather than a broken 3-ring binder spine.


Dwelling on Waste

The Ecologist


A wood burning stove made from two steel barrels (now doubly repurposed) is found rusting away in a nearby abandoned house, and is taken back and assembled. With this stove fallen tree limbs in the yard and scrap lumber that we pull from the house are able to be used to produce heat. A magnet retrieves nails left in the ash which are straightened out to build with again. The ash itself is used to help compost human waste, which once thoroughly broken down can be worked back into the soil to add nutrients. We reallocate the misplaced materials within the house that become apparent over time. Insulation and drywall from the coldest and most isolated part of the house are removed and placed closest to the stove, where they’re the most useful. Doors which once were hung in pathways find a new home over the front windows, helping keep heat from escaping.


Dwelling on Waste

“Some rural households expect dinner guests to ‘return’ nutrients [by using the latrine] before they leave, and it is a common practice for farmers to pay households to fill boxes with their bodily wastes.” - William McDonough, ‘ Cradle to Cradle’ The Ecologist


During our scavenging excursions we gather information about the properties in our surrounding neighborhood. We know which are occupied and which are abandoned. We watch for trees overhanging the roofs of houses and for missing shingles, the telltale signs of water damage. We can tell by the rooflines and slope of the soil near a house if its foundation is holding strong, and we can tell by the peeling paint and un-mown lawns if the property is being cared for. Scouting for materials becomes an easier process as we learn the workings of the neighborhood and tendencies of different property types. Vacant properties don’t have regular curbside trash. Recently purchased properties are often cleaned out and have a wealth of materials all at once. And demolition properties involve more work but contain plenty within their very walls and floors.


Dwelling on Waste

Threats to Housing Stock Damaged Roof Problematic Tree

Slated for Demolition Vacant Home

Poor Foundation Harmful Vegetation

Vacant Lot

The Ecologist


Our transactions, not bound by the frigid guise of a monetary system, allow us to start developing more complex and intimate relationships with the surrounding community. We build up a relationship with Buffalo ReUse by helping remove unprofitable and unwanted materials. We help Dan with his urban farm and learn of the soil and what amendments are needed to make it fertile. We become friends with Megan and Nora by donating a table we found in the trash. And we help Ms. Triggs who’s built a community house down the street in exchange for materials and tips on how to avoid the inspectors. The relationships that form through these exchanges of material, favors, knowledge, and labor start to suggest an alternative economy reminiscent more to barter and, oftentimes, altruism. The exchange isn’t some arbitrary number on a tag, but a deeper connection and understanding of different cultures, subcultures, trades, urbanisms – even politics.


Dwelling on Waste

The Ecologist


Our neighborhood friends share with us a list of houses that are set to be demolished, so we target those first, extracting everything we can salvage before the demolition crews arrive. From these, we’re able to salvage bits of drywall, insulation, lumber, windows, and various household items - all of which would have ended up destroyed and in a landfill. To fix our foundation, we gather old tires from the vacant lots on our street. We lay them in rows and pack them with dirt. The size of the tires, which would take up a large amount of space in a landfill, is to our advantage, as they create a massive and robust retaining wall. Behind them for drainage we pour buckets of small pieces of asphalt that had been dumped in an abandoned lot.


Dwelling on Waste

The Ecologist



Dwelling on Waste

The Ecologist


At the same time second life is given to the waste materials, we remove blight from neighboring lots and properties. Landfill loads and costs are reduced.

Wood windows

Southern-exposed window wall

Discarded tires

Masonry units

Pallets, scrap wood

Partitions and storage

Broken wood ladder

Wall-hung pantry

Vacant lots are remediated. Local property values are maintained, and a communal respect for their own things and themselves is encouraged. In a symbiotic manner, environmental hazards become the source for our structural solutions and structural hazards provide materials for our environmental solutions. Each mater is re-envisioned within a new framework to become part of a feedback loop, where flexibility of materials is recognized and embraced and ecological responsibility is acknowledged not only as putting empty cans into a blue bin for pick-up, but as a fundamental change in behavior and interaction with the surrounding environment - natural or artificial.


Dwelling on Waste

First floor

Permeable floor pavers


Candle holders

Scrap steel


Bats, skis

Indoor shutters

Wood doors

The Ecologist


Baby crib, headboard


Waste modeling foam


Broken drywall

Collaged fireproofing

Cast-iron tub


Second floor 110

Dwelling on Waste

The Ecologist


Broken concrete

Pathways, patio

Pallets, fiberglass sign


Broken TV’s

Table legs


Logs, timbers


Dwelling on Waste

Pathways, spatial designation

The Ecologist



Assessment Italo Calvino remarks “one can have permanent

“One can have permanent newness…but it is

newness…but it is an illusion. It comes at a price, and that price is the making permanent of rubbish.” The

an illusion. It comes at a price, and that price

seduction of false progress is only temporary, and we are beginning to approach the threshold of forced reality. Current acceleration in the construction and demolition of neighborhoods, infrastructures, and objects signifies a flux between past and future, altogether avoiding the present. Since waste is an inevitable byproduct of everything we do, we must first overcome it socially and rid it of the taboo it has come to possess…a reevaluation of “value.” Ultimately this leads to a relationship in which the home is open to a constant flow in material organization, as opposed to the standard model of isolation and rejection.


Dwelling on Waste

is the making permanent of rubbish” - Calvino, ‘Invisible Cities’



The Southampton House may not necessarily be an ideal model for urban rejuvenation and material resourcing. Risk was no stranger; For better or worse, we’ve had to tread – and oftentimes cross – very thin legal lines. We’ve put ourselves and our possessions into areas of the city known for being run down and rampant. And we’ve endured discomforts far beyond the average (American) person’s tolerance of such things. There were moments of utter failure, of misery, and of questionable sanity. The process is extremely labor intensive and requires a great deal of patience compared to modern means of construction. This becomes problematic in a society which has become so accustomed to efficiency and automation. Time is money. The result is a house which is unrealistic and unfitting to the larger “normal” population in Buffalo and in developed countries as a whole.


Dwelling on Waste

For them, our work thus may be seen as a sort of exaggeration – a critique of consumerism and the indifference to waste which has become the norm, of the sterility and preciousness of “high design,” and of architectural discourse as a whole - both Hurricane Katrina damage

within practice and acadamia. If the responsibility of the architect is to situate material among context, the challenge is not to achieve a trashless space, but more flexible aesthetic and functional criteria to embed it in. Waste isn’t something to be shunned, but an underutilized resource capable of far more than we generally like to admit – not only a driver of ecological systems and financial accessibility, but an instigator of new breeds of architecture. At the same time, the lives we led are not without precedent. By 2030 there will be two billion squatters and plenty of other crises to accompany that. Who is left designing for these situations, for disruption?



How these critiques of culture might progress into the

We don’t seek to redefine the profession of

larger context of the world is still only speculative. It

architecture – but to realign it with some of the more

could take a number of routes and will likely require

fundamental human necessities and desires which

several of them to develop synchronously: new

spawned the profession – to reconsider it, not as a

infrastructures to accommodate material salvaging,

puppet of consumerist agendas, but as field capable

investment into quality building products and

of rebuilding cultural values. We seek to provoke a

techniques rather than cheap throw-aways, and most

way of practicing, way of thinking, way of life – that

importantly, social revolution to accept and induce it.

we hope can become a more prominent figure in

There should be acknowledgement that cultures are

architectural practice.

shifting at ever-increasing rates, and that cities and economies will shift just as rapidly. These oscillations shouldn’t be a hindrance, but an inspiration to new types of buildings, new strategies for planning, new programmatic hybrids. It’s a task that even the mighty architect cannot solve alone, but requires a collaborative effort between designers, entrepreneurs, builders, politicians, and the community.


Dwelling on Waste

The old house…seems relieved to be rid of our furniture. The rooms where we lived, where we staged our meals and ceremonies and self-dramatizations and where some of us went from infancy to adolescence, rooms and stairways so imbued with our daily motions that their irregularities were bred into our bones and could be traversed in the dark, do not seem to mourn, as I had thought they would. The house exults in its sudden size, in the reach of its empty corners. Floorboards long muffled by carpets shine as if freshly varnished. Sun pours unobstructed through the curtainless windows. The house is young again. It, too, had a self, a life, which for a time was eclipsed by our lives; now, before its new owners come to burden it, it is free. Now only moonlight makes the floor creak. When, some mornings, I return, to retrieve a few final oddments – handirons, pictures frames – the space of the house greets me with a virginal impudence. Opening the front door is like opening the door to the cat who comes in with the morning milk, who mews in passing on his way to the beds still warm with our night’s sleep, his routine so tenuously attached to ours, by a single mew and a shared roof. Nature is tougher than ecologists admit. Our house forgot us in a day. I feel guilty that we occupied it so thinly…that a trio of movers and a day’s breezes could so completely clean us out. - Gay Hawkins, ‘Culture and Waste: The Creation and Destruction of Value’ Assessment



Dwelling on Waste

Credits 123

References Bachalard, Gaston. Poetics of Space. Beacon Press. 1994 Calvino, Italo. The Baron in the Trees. Mariner Books. 1977. — Invisible Cities. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. 1978. Cruz, Teddy. “Tijuana Case Study Tactics of Invasion: Manufactured Sites.” Architectural Design, 2005: 32-37. Falk, Bob and Guy, Brad. Unbuilding: Salvaging the Architectural Treasures of Unwanted Houses. Taunton Press. 2007. Halpern, Jake. “The Freegan Establishment.” The New York Times. June 4, 2010. Hawken, Paul, Amory Lovins, and Hunter Lovins. Natural Capitalism. Earthscan, 2010. Hawkins, Gay. Culture and Waste: The Creation and Destruction of Value. Rowman & Littlefield, 2003. Hoffman, John. The Art & Science of Dumpster Diving. Boulder: Paladin Press, 1993. Jencks, Charles and Silver, Nathan. Adhocism: The Case for Improvisation. New York: Anchor Books, 1973. Kieran, Stephen and Timberlake, James. Refabricating Architecture. McGraw-Hill. 2003. Krakauer, Jon. Into the Wild. Anchor. 2007. Lebow, Victor. “The Real Meaning of Consumer Demand.” Journal of Retailing, 1955. Lee, Pamela. Object to be Destroyed. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2000. Leonard, Annie. The Story of Stuff: How Our Obsession with Stuff is Trashing the Planet, Our Communities, and Our Health. Free Press, 2010.


Dwelling on Waste

Lynch, Kevin. Wasting Away. Random House, Inc. 1991. McDonough, William, and Michael Braungart. Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things. New York: North Point Press, 2002. Neuwirth, Robert. Shadow Cities. Routledge. 2004. Pullinger, Jackie. Crack in the Wall: Life & Death in Kowloon Walled City. Hodder & Stoughton Religious. 1993. Rathje, William. Rubbish!: The Archaeology of Garbage. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1992. Sinclair, Cameron and Stohr, Kate. Design Like You Give a Damn: Architectural Responses to Humanitarian Crises. Metropolis Books. 2006. Solnit, Rebecca. “Nonconforming Uses: Architect Teddy Cruz at the Borders of Tomorrow.” Democratic Vistas Profiles: Essays in the Arts and Democracy. 2006. Thoreau, Henry David. Walden; or, Life in the Woods. Empire Books. 2012. Till, Jeremy. Architecture Depends. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2009. Woods, Lebbeus. Anarchitecture: Architecture is a Political Act. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1992.

References 125

Dwelling on Waste  

University at Buffalo M. Arch thesis

Read more
Read more
Similar to
Popular now
Just for you