By this time in the 21st century, we all are familiar with the concept of reducing, reuse, recycle, and repurpose. Belonging to the same genre, Upcycling Is another brilliant term, which has recently and vigilantly surfaced the green vocabulary, through the invaluable efforts of the creative industry. 

Its popular dictionary definition is “to reuse (discarded objects or material) in such a way as to create a product of higher quality or value than the original.” 

This article is not to bore you with waste generation statistics or to call out your conscience, instead, it is a very optimistic approach. According to the available data, In India, we produce 62 million tonnes of waste per year, which is 0.6 kg per person per day. The good news is, this production is going to rise by 5% every year. This way, waste is the most renewable material available on earth today, with 19% of the total waste being completely recyclable, 41% organic, and the remaining unrecyclable and inert. The ‘remaining’ here is our opportunity to cease. 

If contemplated carefully, one would notice that Reuse and upcycling have always been a part of Indian culture, making itself part of the building, art, and other aspects of life. The waste from then major profession ‘farming’ i.e. cow dung, hay, and twigs were the major building materials in the past and are still practised in some villages and tribes. Reusing the wood, and furniture from an old house to new, passing over possessions to generations and old clothes for the newborn, have been old traditional legacy.
Easyvoyage UK

The Buddhist monks have a tradition to use their clothes till the very end, first as outfit, then as bedsheets, duster, and then finally as plasters for the domes and twigs for the oil lamp. 

The ‘Kantha embroidery’ is another great example, where old sarees are stacked and stitched together to make cushions and blankets.  

All these instances from our cultural background speak of upcycling from the smallest to urban level.

In an engaging interview with, Tom Szacky, CEO and founder of Terracycle and the author of the book “Outsmart Waste”, rightly mentioned that most of our global issues today are highly debated, be it the existence of global warming, or corruption or any other issue. This debatable nature makes it hard to take action and to control or eliminate these issues. But with the issue of excessive garbage accumulation, the situation is different. There is no one who debates its existence and harm. People all around the world have acknowledged this danger. This makes this issue easy to at least try to reduce. 

With so much time on hand, during this quarantine and limited outgoing and availability phase of our lives, doesn’t this ‘keyword’ offer a curious and exciting exercise? 

While reading this, why don’t you also think about all that old stuff that you have lying around in the house, which will be thrown away, the day you decide to clean? Or maybe just start small, think about all the things that you have thrown today. Does any of that stuff seem reusable, or up cyclable to you. Look for a Styrofoam box, or a can or a plastic jar, or an egg tray. There are endless possibilities for waste. Convert into a utility object, a planter, an organizer, or just a unique décor piece. 

There are various small-scale startups and designers, who are converting exactly this thought into literal money. But it is evident that, for such an issue, not just voluntary efforts, but mass and formal actions and motivations are needed. This can be achieved by re-adopting upcycling on an urban scale. 

Upcycling on an urban scale can have many meanings.

One of which could be as fundamental as incorporating upcycled products in the urban fabric, such as roads, parks, benches, public spaces, pavilions, markets, malls. This would help people realize it as part of their aesthetic and utility language and shall probably work as a whole to part process, to include upcycled products in the aesthetic and utilitarian language of the citizens.

Celebrating upcycled and reused products as art

Raipur has set a great example in this context. It became the first city to host a grand Kachra Mahotsav in the country in 2019. They invited artists and craftspeople to present upcycled art and design made with scrap and promised to display their work in the main locations in the city after the Mahotsav. This initiative helped in re-introducing this tradition of upcycling in the form of art in the lives of people.

Upcycling in Architecture at an urban level Sheet3
Upcycling in Architecture at an urban level Sheet4

The Museum of Goa is another example where upcycled art judiciously celebrates waste. The backdrop, which appears of colorful flowers is in fact, a massive collection of colored plastic bottles.

Museum of Goa- by artist Subodh Kerkar_Twitter

Plastic Roads

Roads occupy most of the urban fabric. Professor Rajagopalan Vasudevan of the Thiagarajar College of Engineering first developed the technology to use plastic in road construction, which eventually made roads more durable, cost-effective, and resistant to rains and wear. This technology has been very popular since its patent and has been adapted by various countries. Mr. Vasudevan has made the technology available for free, to support the cause of waste management, and promote this brilliant solution.

Upcycling in Architecture at an urban level Sheet6

It involves collecting, cleaning, and melting the all kinds of waste plastic and styrofoams at 165 °C, and blending it with hot aggregates and bitumen and using this mixture to lay the road

Transforming the urban built fabric

The urban built fabric is the ‘image of the city’. If the city reflects upcycle and reuse with pride, then it shall be portrayed as a creative luxury, influencing more and more people.

Upcycling in Architecture at an urban level Sheet7
Studio Alternative- House with shipping container_Mid-Day
Upcycling in Architecture at an urban level Sheet8
Dhara Kabaria-Studio Alternative_Mid-Day
Upcycling in Architecture at an urban level Sheet9
Studio Alternative- House with shipping container_Times of India

An effort by Dhara Kabaria- It is the informed architects and designers of today who could make this paradigm shift from the brick and mortar culture to houses and offices with reclaimed material. Dhara Kabaria, of studio alternatives, Mumbai, has set one such example. She convinced one of her high-end clients to build a house with reclaimed shipping containers, and decorate it with upcycled products. With her creative abilities, she did full justice to the expectations of the client, and’ the image of the city’

There are many such examples surfacing around the world, as the creative community is grasping the potential that waste offers.

Upcycling in Architecture at an urban level Sheet10
sous traitance industrielle region centre

A canopy designed by students from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln College of Architecture and featured on The Blog Aquatic by David Connell. Connell lauded it as “a beautiful example of…making trash too valuable to toss.”  

Upcycling in Architecture at an urban level Sheet11

Architecture studio theMAAK has unveiled a new installation made with tetra packs as part of the 2019 experimental Design & Make program Follies in the Veld (FITV) in Cape Town, South Africa.  

The other could be a more lengthy and organized process of not letting the potential waste products pass into the garbage. That would mean, strict and informed segregation while collecting, and formulating and encouraging organized institutions to produce and mass-produce upcycled products.

With the advent of Sawccha Bharat Abhiyan 2014, India has taken the first step of segregating the waste in most cities, now it’s time for the next step. To create a formal platform, encouraging the upcoming designers and artisans, to upcycle, and make it an irreplaceable and growing part of people’s lifestyle. 

The examples shown above, display the possibility of using this potential renewable material, and exploiting it as much as we exploit “other materials on earth.”


  • Research Papers: 
  • Kumar S, Bhattacharyya JK, Vaidya AN, Chakrabarti T, Devotta S, Akolkar. (2009). Assessment of the status of municipal solid waste management in metro cities, state capitals, class I cities, and class II towns in India: an insight. WASTE MANAGE, 29, 883-895. 
  • Annepu RK. (2012). report on sustainable solid waste management in India. Waste to Energy research and technology council (WTERT-1). 
  • Archdaily 
  • Wikipedia 
  • Tags – upcycling in architecture, upcycled materials, recycled materials, recycling in materials, material technology. 

Mubaraka Surury Saifee is a passionate architect and writer with a keen ability to appreciate the humble gestures of architecture. She believes that there always exists more than single way of looking at things. She sees architecture and writing combined as a medium to reach people and produce some food for thought, to bring positive changes in the society.