Building of the week: the waste house

Most houses are made to be lived in. Some of the ones I’ve written about here are more experimental, and this week’s building is practically a work of art. It’s a statement about our throwaway society, and the potential usefulness of waste.

brighton waste house

The Waste House has been built by students at the University of Brighton, and it’s the first permanent public building in Europe to be made almost entirely from things that were being thrown away. In terms of design, it’s a relatively straight-forward timber frame house. It’s in the materials that it stands out, using a dazzling range of unorthodox bits and pieces, most of them sourced through the Brighton Freegle network. Here are just some of the materials used:

  • The weatherproof cladding that looks like slate tiles is actually reversed carpet tiles.
  • A nearby factory inexplicably imports jeans and then cuts off the legs to sell them as shorts. Two tonnes of waste denim insulates the walls.
  • The roof is waterproofed with re-used vinyl graphics, most of them the council’s old streetlamp advertising banners.
  • Some of the walls are made from old VHS tapes and DVD cases, the contents of a local movie rental shop that went bust during construction.
  • Another section of wall is packed with discarded toothbrushes from airline courtesy packs, sourced from Gatwick Airport.
  • Bicycle inner tubes seal the windows.

Some of these things are admittedly gimmicks, but the building will serve as a test site to see how well the various materials work, and whether they could be used more widely. It’s designed to Passivhaus standard, and wired with sensors to see how well it performs over time. It will also serve as a centre for learning about sustainable construction, both within Brighton University and for visiting students.

It’s also there as a challenge to the construction industry, which is among the most wasteful industries in the country. In Brighton and Hove, 62% of the city’s waste comes from construction and demolition. Some of this is rubble, but much of it is viable construction materials. Since labour is expensive, site managers tend to order too many materials to make sure work doesn’t stop if they run out of something. It’s often easier just to dump the excess at the end than try and sell it on.

“This is building as polemic” says architect Duncan Baker Brown of the Waste House. “It is saying, “don’t throw stuff away.” I’m coming at it from the point of view of the statistic that, for every five houses we build, the equivalent in waste of one building is thrown away.”

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