Trash to Treasure


“Rubbish may be universal, but it is little studied and poorly understood. Nobody knows how much of it the world generates or what it does with it.” – The Economist magazine, “Talking Rubbish” June 7th 2007

In the first stage of the “Build our Nation” project which took place at the start of April we were conceptualising a women’s community centre for an area in the Democratic Republic of Congo, through workshops in Aberdeen, Milan, Barcelona and Reus. Something which many of the student teams taking part picked up on was the possibility of using waste materials cleverly in their design in order to make it more sustainable and economical for the community; there were proposals which involved using plastic bottles as walls which could filter rain water, car tyres to form waterproof seals in roofs, and old advertising canvases as weatherproofing. There is a trend to make us more aware of what we waste on a day to day basis, and what we are able to recycle, but there are still so many untapped possibilities for what can be done with waste materials.

In first year studying architecture we were given the challenge to build a shanty town house in a 2x3m plot, which our team of 8 would be able to sleep in. Our £5 budget was instantly blown on a bag of nails and some tape, and so it was down to us to scour the streets and building sites for scraps which could be useful. I think everyone was surprised with what could be found, and our shanty town was soon taking shape with arrays of old ovens, front doors, blackboards, piping and plastic sheeting (to name a few materials).

Rubbish doesn’t necessarily mean ugly, which has been shown by architects and designers who have been working with these ideas recently, and there are some fantastic examples of what can be done in art and architecture with materials that are considered completely worthless.

The Challenge

We are asking you to design something beautiful and useful that uses material that are otherwise thrown away. How can your design change people’s attitude towards what is rubbish, and what we waste? We are looking for a creative and imaginative response, where new and innovative uses are found for items which are considered worthless. Being able to design using wasted materials can transform communities who have barely anything, so we would love to see your ideas, however crazy they might be.

The deadline for entries is midnight on Sunday 1st May 2011, and the winner will be announced in the following week.

Further Reading and Inspiration

Winning Entry

Congratulations to Sarah Crowley (

Her concept of recycling toilet parts was original, witty, versatile and fully considered- please take time to look carefully at the extra boards she has provided us with below to get an even fuller idea of the project. And perhaps someday we will all be living in porcelain cities!

Here is what Sarah has to say about the concept.

For centuries, the American Indian’s form of sustainability has been to use every single part of the buffalo. In the same way, I have chosen to use every part of the toilet… effectively creating no waste from… waste!!

Upon many visits to demolition yards I noticed that the countless discarded sanitary fittings could be something of an untapped building resource. They are white and shiny, with inherent designerly curves and a non-porous surface (once disinfected of course). These everyday sculpted modules can be applied to sustainable building in a plethora of ways; from petal-like “loo-ver” facade systems, planter box cisterns (excellent for thermal mass and growing your vegetables in), and water-filtering toilet bowl walls that resemble water-droplets.

Once the toilet has been broken down into its separate components, they take on a new life. I was surprised to discover that toilets (of all things) can serve as remarkably functional and surprisingly attractive building materials that are appropriate for varying climates.

Honourable mentions

Design Team:
MAS ETH UD Team: Anteneh Tola Tesfaye, Sarah Bridges , Ruta Jurga Vitonyte, Tousas Theodorus, Haris Makedonopoulou , Danai Laskari , Kalliopi Kontou , Kneer Alexander, Gwardys Justyna, Keyvan Gharaee Nezhad , Joao Pedro Escaleira Amaral, Dias Tamborino Manuela, Dialeismas Xenofon, Calogero Anna, Calle Figueroa Christian Esteban, Blum Catherine, Blagojevic Marija, Alexandrou Georgios, Bush Lindsay Ann, Cabera Nyst Ricardo, Gaston Robles David, Ho Ting Fung, Skoupra Anthi and Rainer Hehl with SEHAB Sao Paolo.

Design Team:

Vance Fok, M.Arch Carleton University, currently in Ottawa, and, Lisa Jones, graduate of Carleton University B.Arch. and currently living/working in Berlin.

Shortlisted Entries


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