Survivalist Architecture: Dwelling on Waste
Survivalist Architecture: Dwelling on Waste
A book about our life in the $800 house: a critique of consumerism and the indifference to waste which has become the norm.
A book about our life in the $800 house: a critique of consumerism and the indifference to waste which has become the norm. Read more
My colleague Matthieu Bain and I are graduate architecture students at the University at Buffalo. For the past nine months, we've been collaborating on a thesis project. We wanted to address the problems that Buffalo and other rust belt cities face. A decreasingly viable economic system and large scale depopulation - much of the housing stock is unoccupied, unwanted, and left in various states of decay. With this is an alarming dependence on consumption, with little regard to the inevitable products of waste.
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.
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 removes 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.
The house that has been our home and laboratory since October is still under transition. As the weather warms and as we nail down main structural/leakage/comfort problems, these scavenged materials begin to lend themselves to more generous spaces and applications. Since waste is an inevitable byproduct of everything we do, we must 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.
Our work 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.” 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.
Check out our blog for more in depth accounts about our life as vagrant-architect-ecologists: http://dwellingonwaste2.blogspot.com/
The next step:
The house is now largely stabilized. While Matt holds down the fort in Buffalo I seek to extend our research and ideals beyond the context of Buffalo. How are other individuals, grass roots organizations, and communities dealing creatively with the taboos of waste? Everything and everyone from innovative waste management, to artistic integration of reclaimed materials, to green demolition, to ways of dealing with homelessness will be sought out to broaden the scope of our project.
I will be traveling around the U.S. by car seeking out these individual and entities - observing, learning, networking, and hopefully gaining some insight as to how our ideas can become a more prominent figure in architectural practice. The trip will take approximately two months. Except maybe a handful of nights, I'll be camping out or roughing it to save on costs and stay true to our ideals. Raised funds go to gas
At the end of this I will return to Buffalo where Matt and I will be putting together a book. The experiences, imagery, and contacts from the cross-country trip will be used to more eloquently situate the project and provide a more thorough backdrop for our work. Along the way we will be reaching out to as many people as possible and forming relationships that hopefully lead to even more tangible outcomes.
- Cleveland, OH - Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative
- Detroit, MI - Architectural Salvage Warehouse
- Detroit, MI - Design 99 + Power House
- Detroit, MI - Imagination Station
- Detroit, MI - The Heidelberg Project (outdoor art project - abandonment turned artists' colony)
- Chicago, IL - Lowercase Collective
- Portland, OR - Communitecture
- Portland, OR - The ReBuilding Center
- Lagunitas, CA - David Hoffman
- San Diego, CA - Estudio Teddy Cruz
- Colorado Desert, CA - Slab City (decommissioned and uncontrolled site-turned squatting and camping grounds)
- Taos, New Mexico - Earthship Biotecture/Mike Reynolds (passive solar houses made of natural and recycled materials)
- Huntsville, TX - Phoenix Commotion/Dan Phillips (Eco-friendly homes for low-income families)
- Houston, TX - John Milkovisch
- New Orleans, LA - Eric Kugler
- New York, NY - Fresh Kills landfill (one of the largest landfills [and man-made structures] in the world, now under development as "Freshkills Park")
- New York, NY - ABC No Rio (community center/activist collaborative)
- New York, NY - "The Hole" (ghost town between Brooklyn and Queens)
- Boston, MA - Ze-gen, Inc. (renewable energy company - gasification)
- (30 days)