As the world gets more crowded and landfills fill up more of the land, people are looking for ways to build homes using fewer raw materials and more repurposed old materials. In addition to being an ecologically sound practice, and cheap or even free, it also just looks cool. Using, say, vintage corrugated tin is more original and sturdy than throwing up another cheap particle-board wall that won’t last long enough to be salvaged.
It would do homebuilders well to take a lesson from nature. Like the example of a bird weaving found bits of string or shreds of plastic bags into its nest, the following homes are made using materials that were reclaimed from their previous purposes.
In this collection of homes from across the globe, we have houses made from parts of vehicles that used to drive and fly, homes made with decades-old building supplies and details, and buildings crafted from unexpected everyday objects. This list shows not just freestanding, newly built houses but also an urban apartment.
By Colleen Kane
Posted June 15, 2012
Location: Malibu, Calif.
Plenty of retired airplanes have been converted into small living spaces that fall somewhere on the spectrum between a camper and a railroad apartment, but this structure by David Hertz Architects Studio of Environmental Architecture takes airplane living to a new level.
Wing House reuses the wings of a 747 for the roof of a modern residential compound on 55 hilly acres. The design team realized that retired airplanes were located in-state and were sold at the price of aluminum, their main material. “As we analyzed the cost, it seemed to make more sense to acquire an entire airplane and to use as many of the components as possible, like the Native American Indians used every part of the buffalo,” it says the firm's website. Therefore, the property is to consist of several structures all made with components and pieces of a Boeing 747-200 aircraft.” Thus, an art studio on the property uses a section of fuselage for the roof, while the former upper first class cabin deck was turned into a guest house, and another part was used for the barn roof.
The completed house is registered with the Federal Aviation Administration, so that pilots flying over it don’t mistake it for a plane crash site.
Location: Lagoa Santa, Brazil
You’d never know it to look at this artful and unique home, but it’s partially made from repurposed metal sewer drainage pipes. In addition to the framing and railings, architect João Diniz and his team planned other aspects of this minimal cottage with efficiency in mind, allowing for lots of natural light and air circulation. The bas relief on the side of the building is by the artist Jorge dos Anjos.
Location: Berkeley, Calif.
This small and very green two-bedroom home designed by Leger Wanaselja Architecture incorporates more than 100 salvaged car roofs on its second-story walls. The roofs were harvested from gray cars that were left for scrap at junkyards. The awnings were formed from Dodge Caravan side windows. (The firm’s website points out that what was once America’s bestselling minivan is now one of junkyards’ most commonly found minivans.) The first floor exterior walls are lined with poplar bark, a waste product of North Carolina’s furniture industry, and all the finish wood is salvaged. Among numerous other ecological features, the house is passive solar and has backup heat only needed during rain or heavily overcast periods in winter. In addition, the property is shared with a studio made from a shipping container.
Location: Huntsville, Texas
Architect Dan Phillips learned to make use of scrap as a child of parents who lived through the Great Depression, and he now designs low-income habitations that incorporate recycled materials. His first project for the construction business Phoenix Commotion, pictured here, is part of the Tree House compound, which can be rented as a residence and studio for artists. The colorful herringbone-like pattern of the roof is composed of hundreds of picture-frame sample corners. This and other houses are made up of salvaged parts such as bottle tops, corks, tiles, even bones from a cattle yard. He also built a house that uses old license plates as roof shingles.
Location: New York
New York contractor Peter Maslow began learning his craft from his Finnish farmer grandfather, who showed him how to build a treehouse without putting a single nail into the tree. “I recall things like this when I am working even now: there is a spirit of efficiency, of structure, of not wasting time, material or money, and finding the most sensible route to the desired end,” he says on his website. “For me, this is the Ethics of renovation.”
Maslow recently did the construction work and finishing on an apartment renovation in collaboration with designer/artist/builder Randy Polumbo. The renovation reuses antique interior elements, including gothic oak paneling of a different apartment that was probably 80 to 100 years old and which Maslow speculated is probably now a fancy modern renovation. Other repurposed parts include old Brooklyn brownstone doors and hardware, light fixtures made of recycled materials, and a vintage gas range.
Location: Greensboro, Ala.
The Auburn University Rural Studio program was co-founded by D.K. Ruth and its charismatic leader, the late architect Samuel Mockbee, with the dual goals of giving students hands-on building experience while creating innovative and beautiful shelters for poor local residents.
This home, built by the second-year architecture class for Jimmy Lee Matthews, a former DJ who is called Music Man, uses upcycled pickup-truck beds as the bathroom walls. Two of the program’s other homes are in Mason’s Bend, Ala. The Butterfly House, a modern twist on the vernacular architecture of the region with twin pointy peak “wings,” is made from century-old salvaged wood from a church; the Lucy House is fortified with striped pillars made from 72,000 stacked carpet tiles.
Location: São Paulo, Brazil
Architect Studio Arthur Casas designed this weekend home for a young family. For the primary material of the house, bricks were reclaimed from a demolished building. The house is almost hidden from the street, with most of it situated below street level and a green roof. It also has Cumaru hardwood, which is harvested from managed forests.
Location: Lexington, Mass.
The Big Dig house from Single Speed Design takes its name, and its building materials, from Boston’s Big Dig. More than 600,000 pounds of salvaged materials are used in the house, including sections of highway I-93. The house was built quickly and the road sections were placed as-is onto the steel beam frame, so that what was once Boston’s Central Artery is now this house’s floors and roof. The house also has roof gardens that use collected rainwater.
Location: Enschede, The Netherlands
Villa Welpeloo by 2012 Architecten makes use of found material from 1,000 wooden cable spools for the exterior, and the load-bearing beams were made from a paternoster (an elevator from a textile factory machine). Textile production was once a major industry of the region, and just one machine provided enough steel for the house. As for the wood harvested for the façade, that is normally burned or made into particle board; using it this way for the exterior was a direct re-use of the material requiring no additional energy use. As a smaller-scale example of salvaged materials, the artwork is lighted with armatures made from the skeletons of broken umbrellas.
Location: Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
Telephone directories are unnecessary for anyone with Internet access, yet the fat tomes of dead trees continue to pile up on stoops and in apartment building foyers, wasteful relics of the pre-Internet age. Someone finally found a use for them—Richard Kroeker Design, with building help from students of Dalhousie University Department of Architectur, created an experimental building using phone books in the walls as insulating material. Laminated phone books make up the roof joists.