Recycling in architecture is a very current subject that directly relates to our treatment of the earth and the amount of waste our society is producing. The ways of recycling materials in building construction are progressing in their innovative approach to reuse discardable goods. Examples of this attitude include the creation of bricks from plastic bags, roof tiles from diapers and shingles from newspaper wood. There is an increase in temporary pop-up spaces that focus on flexible use that not only affect the city through the creation of a new community hub, but also educate them through the use of recycled materials. There is definitely a challenge in the use of obsolete, sometimes tear-down materials, however more and more architects decide to rise up to it.
New Affiliates is a practice based in New York, led by Ivi Diamantopoulou and Jaffer Kolb, which focuses on many collaborations that try to address the issue of material excess and create reusable solutions. They worked with many branches of the New York City Government such as Parks and Recreation and won the Architectural League Prize and New York New Practices Award. They created the Drywall – is Forever installation. New Affiliates describe their project:
“Looking closely at the surface of the museum wall and its history, we looked at alternate uses and applications of drywall. We built a new white cube gallery out of discarded pieces from museums and galleries around the city. Through the process, we created a new kind of subtle relief-decoration: puzzle pieces imprinting almost imperceptibly on the surface itself.”1
Testbeds is another one of their projects that relates to recycling materials. It was initiated in 2019 together with Samuel Stewart-Halevy and NYC Parks Green Thumb. Its aim is to take large scale architectural mockups and recycle it as a new type of public facility. “Mockups are a byproduct of longer design research projects, and represent the increasing complexity of a city in the midst of active and elaborate development. They’re a sign, in other words, both of architectural waste and of urban growth; a curious hybrid that we wanted to capture by giving them new lives and new means of engaging the city.”2
This project started as New Affiliates’ observation that the process of architectural design produces a lot of unpredicted waste. The models are often built from the same materials as the final design, however after their use as a design tool has ended, they are discarded. The architects were also very interested in small but impactful public space insertions within the urban fabric, on which many communities rely on. They noticed that the scale of the discarded architectural models very often coincides with the need for these small structures that create social hubs within the neighbourhoods. “Bringing the image of the growing city down to the ground allows the mockups to serve as double agents: humanizing the scale of the skyline and getting built into new forms produced through conversations around program and use. Ultimately they become new ambassadors that promise the unexplored potentials of development.”3
Their Pilot project is planned to be located in Edgemere, Queens. It is supposed to become a part of the Edgemere Coalition Community Garden (ECCG) and act as a multi-purpose hall that could contain their future needs. The architects hope to complete the project this year. They received four concrete panels which tested a new custom made frame design for a new condo building as well as an 8-by-5 foot glass window. The Testbed design places focus on this big window which creates a visual connection with the interior space as well as creates large roofing and a new greenhouse together with a tool shed.
There are many ways in which everyone can participate in the Testbeds project. One is by making a donation for the completion of the Edgemere Pilot Project. The second is by donating leftover or repurposed materials for the creation of future social hubs, and finally, the New Affiliates are always looking for like-minded collaborators to help with research and scavenging for future projects.
More and more architects start to realise that buildings do not last forever, however, everything they do leaves an imprint on the planet. They start to think beyond the life of a building and try to come up with a sustainable design, which does not leave an ecological footprint. Recyclable energy sources, passive housing and reusable materials are only at the base of the wider issue, however, every small change, can inspire many more and become very significant.