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Re-use: hierarchies of recycling in theory and practice

Re-use is useful as both an applied and a conceptual topic, so you can make a design brief or an essay topic out of re-use. Conceptually we often see scales like the one below prepared for Terra20.

As students start to think about the higher levels in the chart above, it quickly becomes apparent that the best place to address re-use is at the beginning of the design process. Terra20 also features a number of recycled consumer products. The “rebound” effect suggests a dilemma, that we sometimes consume more if we feel the mode of consumption is greener–in some cases this increased consumption might be fueled by “eco- savings” (such as through energy efficiency) but in others it is as though we’ve somehow earned the “right” to consume more if our consumption is greener.

In applied terms, there are some interesting examples in the architecture and building arenas. For example, House of Card is an Australian company making portable buildings from “entirely recyclable cardboard, plywood and shipping pallets.” The design started out as shelter for disaster relief but has evolved to serve artisanal brands at festivals and other events.  House of Card Australian sustainable design for events


Going higher on the reuse scale, Public Architecture has produced a downloadable Design for Reuse Primer that profiles 15 successful reuse projects.

Design For Reuse Primer

In another inventive project, Re Rag Rug, Swedish students make modern style rag rugs out of “T-shirts and woollen sweaters from the Salvation Army’s chain of second hand stores.” The group declares “By working in a free and experimental manner the goal is to create rag rugs so innovative in design and technique, that the fact they are made out of re-cycled materials is a bonus.”

These applied projects circle us back to the conceptual question we started with–what are some of the viable, long term approaches for reuse? Let’s have the students grapple with that in theory and practice.

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