With advancing urbanization, the demand for affordable housing is invariably increasing. A small house of his own is the dream of every man in our country, whether he is a daily laborer, a small farmer, or a low paid employee. More often than not, his dreams are not fulfilled mainly due to the high cost of housing and property. What can be done about this issue?

“One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”

The answer lies in the concept of Junk Architecture, one of the recent efforts to save the environment while being economically beneficial. The origin of the use of scrap as a building material can be associated with the shacks in the slums. Though that is not the most desired way of using waste, it is undoubtedly the crudest form of architecture. It is from there that we get an inspiration to use waste material in a more habitable way in our mainstream buildings, providing permanent shelters to the poor and poverty-stricken segments of the society.

The recycling of buildings is a healthy green practice, stressing the importance of sustainability. This is an invention of triple impact- economic, environmental, and social. The prime goal is to sustain sustainability. Architects must design buildings considering the aforementioned factors. Indeed, along with developing new skills, knowledge, and attitude on environmental issues, architects have to learn to be more curators of the built environment rather than mere creators. From houses to yurts, recycled materials like glass bottles and discarded plastics can be used to make affordable shelters. With a surplus of trash all over the world, building with garbage is the future.

The big question arises where do we go from here? What possibilities have recycled materials in building construction and architectural appearance? Can designing using junk and waste become a distinct style of architecture? Let us answer these questions with a few examples of buildings using waste materials for affordable living spaces.

1. Wheel Story House, Ghana

Sammy Ansah, an architect, designed an apartment transforming refuse into objects of beauty in Abelenkpe, Western Africa. He took inspiration from the smell of wooden floorboards and decided to use the empty spool wheels laying waste to create something valuable. He thereby combined the junk from construction sites with rubbish, creating art out of waste.

Wheel Story House, Ghana - Sheet1
Apartment by Sammy Ansah using reclaimed and recycled materials ©Inhabitat
Wheel Story House, Ghana - Sheet2
Wooden wheels and spools used in the design of the apartment ©Inhabitat
Wheel Story House, Ghana - Sheet3
The house is mostly built from reclaimed wood ©Inhabitat
Wheel Story House, Ghana - Sheet4
Wood, broken tiles and paving stone used for wall ©Inhabitat

The walls were erected using an eclectic collection of broken stone pieces, old paving stones, wooden logs, and broken tiles. The roofing and flooring were constructed with old wooden soda and beer crates. Moreover, wooden wheels(spools) are used for furniture.

2. Scrap House, San Francisco

Located in San Francisco, Scrap House is a green demonstration home constructed entirely using salvaged materials. A team of architects, structural engineers, and scrap artists came together and built this house. An enormous assortment of materials has been utilized in this project successfully demonstrating the usage of waste as a building material.

Scrap House, San Francisco - Sheet1
Various views of the Scrap House located in Civic Centre Plaza, San Francisco, USA ©Interstice Architects
Scrap House, San Francisco - Sheet2
The feature timber Staircase ©Interstice Architects
Scrap House, San Francisco - Sheet3
Traffic light chandelier & Steel truss ©Interstice Architects
Scrap House, San Francisco - Sheet4
The Phonebook wall & Street sign as exterior cladding ©Interstice Architects

The roof and fence are made of vinyl billboards. Exterior walls constructed using glass and traffic signs. Strips of conveyor belts used as flooring. Thick, yellow fire hoses cover the walls of an entire room. A wall designed using vertically stacked phonebooks, which act as insulation and help with the acoustics of the space. One of the Scrap House’s most defining features is the staircase leading to the mezzanine bedroom. It consists of heavy timber steps and iron scrap banister hoisted into place by a forklift. Furthermore, a traffic light chandelier was created using old traffic light lenses.

3. Waste House, England

Situated on the University of Brighton’s campus, the Waste House was designed by Duncan Baker-Brown, director of the institute, with the help of undergraduate students. It is the UK’s first permanent building constructed from rubbish. The facility is to be used as a community resource for hosting sustainability-themed design workshops and events.

Waste House, England - Sheet1
The house of waste built from recycled materials at the University of Brighton ©Dezeen
Waste House, England - Sheet2
The Waste House at the University of Brighton ©Dezeen
Waste House, England - Sheet3
Interior view of the Waste House ©Dezeen
Waste House, England - Sheet4
Interior view of the Waste House ©Dezeen

Foundation made from blast-furnace slag supporting a framework of salvaged plywood beams, columns, and timber joists obtained from a nearby demolished house. Walls constructed using waste block work filled with floppy discs, DVD cases, toothbrushes, and denim offcuts. Recycled carpet tiles used as weatherproof cladding for the exterior, while waste vinyl exhibition banners wrapped around the house. The staircase wall built using chalk spoil from a local construction site.

Furniture design, for the interiors, included a cabinet displaying material samples to explore ways of mixing waste with organic materials. The kitchen worktop is made from second-hand coffee grinds and plastic coffee cups. Cycle inner tubes used to seal windows and sound-proof the flooring. Compressed recycled paper used to make the treads and risers of the staircase

Waste House was designed to illustrate that materials considered waste and thus destined for landfills, could be used to generate a viable permanent building.

4. Manav Sadhna Activity Centre, Ahmedabad

An activity center in Ahmedabad, the building is an attempt by architect Yatin Pandya to recycle municipal and domestic waste into useful materials.

The building addresses three important issues: environmental concern: the usage of municipal waste from the domestic sector helps in reducing waste, landfill sites, and subsequently, pollution while keeping the environment clean and healthy, economic issues: the process of recycling the waste as a means of providing for economic activity for the poor and providing affordable housing since the recycled components are cheaper and therefore, a viable alternative for the urban poor. The campus is built as a live exhibit of the application of recycled waste to manufacture affordable, efficient, and aesthetically pleasing building components.

Manav Sadhna Activity Centre, Ahmedabad - Sheet1
Manav Sadhna Activity Centre by Yatin Pandya ©Rethinking the Future
Manav Sadhna Activity Centre, Ahmedabad - Sheet2
Wall erected using recycled plastic bottles ©Rethinking the Future
Manav Sadhna Activity Centre, Ahmedabad - Sheet3
Wall erected using recycled glass bottles ©Rethinking the Future
Manav Sadhna Activity Centre, Ahmedabad - Sheet4
Discs used as window glazing ©Rethinking the Future

There are six types of material and techniques used in the construction of walls, namely: cement-bonded fly ash bricks, a residue from power plants, mold-compressed bricks made from landfill site waste residue, recycled glass bottles, recycled plastic bottles filled with ash or waste residue, stabilized soil blocks and vegetable crate wood. Furthermore, for floor and roof, filler slabs with glass and plastic bottles are used. Door panels made of shredded paper, used for packaging, and coated waste paper as reinforcement. The frames of bathroom windows made from vegetable crate woods and louvers from oil tins. Oil tins further used as a cladding for the bathroom door.

5. Works of Laurie Baker

Laurie Baker primarily practices low-cost architecture, keeping in mind the needs of the poor. Consequently, in some of his works he uses scrap material in minute things like windows, art forms, and sculptures. They cut the cost of the building and provide a distinct artistic character to space.

Works of Laurie Baker - Sheet1
Window made from a repurposed horse cartwheel & glass bottles used as fenestrations ©The Better India
Works of Laurie Baker - Sheet2
Glass used as a decorative element and for wall openings ©The Better India
Works of Laurie Baker - Sheet3
Beer & alcohol bottles upcycled to make lampshades and walls ©The Better India
Works of Laurie Baker - Sheet4
The windows made using discarded iron rods and bicycle parts ©The Better India

He used beer bottles in windows and walls, enhancing the quality of light entering a space. Scrap metal utilized to make sculptures to decorate the building. Decorative walls designed using broken pottery, pens, and glass and murals of stone, waste ceramics, or bottles. The integration of new & salvaged timber applied for furniture. Simple yet beautiful windows created using waste wooden planks. Window grills composed of pieces of clutch plate and other thrown away metal sections. RCC with various fillers-bottles, thermocol packaging, etc. used for roofing and flooring.

6. Works of Anil Laul

Architect Anil Laul had an architectural philosophy promoting a cost-effective and sustainable design. He encouraged the adoption of low-cost technologies for the high-income sector. His design style is a blend of traditional and contemporary. His designs are climate responsive, propagating the use of recycled waste.

Works of Anil Laul - Sheet1
Roofing system using funicular shell ©The Future of Design
Works of Anil Laul - Sheet2
Large hollow blocks forming a jaali wall ©Anangpur Building Centre
Works of Anil Laul - Sheet3
Broken tiles and brickbats for flooring and waterproofing ©Anangpur Building Centre

Roofing using funicular shell constructed out of waste materials like broken blocks and scrap pieces of stone, hollow blocks composed of cement mixed with mud and paper with the front decorated with bangles and broken tiles, large hollow blocks stuffed with reclaimed polystyrene, laid with gaps to form a jaali wall, et al, are a few ways of incorporating junk architecture.

As the preceding examples suggest, a lot is happening in different parts of the world in the field of Junk Architecture. Although it is a relatively new concept, it is gaining popularity all over the globe. The ultimate goal is to discover a serious system of utilizing scrap without being wasteful so that it can contribute towards a cleaner and healthier environment while resolving the issue of lack of affordable housing for the poorer sections of the society.


Kavya Jain is an architect by profession with a zest for writing, travelling, reading and eating! She is a young designer trying to use her knowledge for the betterment of the society. She spends her free time pursuing her passion of teaching kids in slums across the city. She is a firm believer of living life one day at a time, because the future will come your way, no matter what anyway!