You might think that upcycling is a wholly interior design related trend, wherein enterprising homeowners add new zest to a tired old chest of drawers, or repurpose items destined for landfill into something useful and beautiful. This isn’t strictly the case, as upcycling can offer a practical and eye-catching solution to reducing waste and creating unique buildings, as we’ll explain below.
Shipping containers are swiftly becoming a staple of up-and-coming neighbourhoods across the country. Where there were once industrial waste and brownfield sites, there are now shipping containers serving artisanal baked bread and tiny coffees to people with trendy haircuts and canvas tote bags.
While it’s easy to scoff, the fact is that a shipping container is a brilliant example of upcycling in construction. They’re hard-wearing, ready-made shelters that only need a little TLC to be fully operational as just about anything you want. Since there are 33 million of the things all across the world, you won’t need to look far to find one. They’ve been used for everything from overspill classrooms to emergency housing and are very easy to bring up to scratch - what’s not to like?
Scaling things down slightly, glass bottles can be used for a number of different functions in a construction project, from an eye-catching feature window to the building blocks of the whole project.
The latter sounds ambitious, but is in fact possible, as the Million Bottle Temple in Thailand proves. Constructed in the 1980s by a group of Buddhist monks using 1.5 million bottles of Heineken and Chang beer, the temple serves as more of a proof of concept than a viable material for the future, but is nonetheless impressive.
Old tube trains
Village Underground, a creative arts hub in Shoreditch, boasts a roof terrace and office space made of decommissioned London Underground rolling stock. While the feeling of never getting off the train might be some people’s idea of hell, it’s certainly a unique way to reuse old stock that would otherwise be scrapped.
Other examples of train-based repurposing include restaurants, book shops and hotels, proving that there’s seemingly no limit to their upcycling potential.
Just about everything
If you can’t choose just one crafty building material for an upcycling project, why not try to use as many as physically possible? That’s what researchers at the University of Brighton did when they created ‘Waste House’ - a building made entirely of various types of waste. From bottle caps to DVD cases and two tonnes of denim offcuts, the University sought to prove a point about the things we throw away on a daily basis.
...Even the kitchen sink
Absolutely anything can be used to build, if you think hard enough. Proof of this concept is the Jean van Heekswijks designed Pavilion, made entirely of kitchen sinks with a few metal struts supporting the structure.
The pavilion was intended to make people think twice about what can be used in construction, in much the same way as the other materials and structures mentioned in this article. So, next time you’re embarking on a construction project, why not think outside the box? This way, you can work towards an outcome that’s as eco-friendly as it is eye-catching.