inspiration     Sep 09 2009

Cash for (housing) Clunkers

Mapos LLC

Somewhere in the concept of Reuse is a win-win-two-bird-profit-making-social-impact solution. Here at Mapos we’ve always tried to integrate existing elements, equipment, materials, anything, into our designs. It adds unique context, character, and comes at a reasonable price: free.
There are myriad obstacles, of course. From extracting nails from old-growth timbers to refurbishing 25-year old boilers to meet current ASHRAE standards, reusing existing materials and equipment can also mean losing time and money on labor. The small but growing industry of Housing Deconstruction aims to dismantle empty and foreclosed homes (mostly in the rapidly shrinking cities of the Midwest) and re-sell and reuse as much of the material as possible. It seems like a good idea until you realize it takes 40 times the man-hours to dismantle a house as it does knock it down with a bulldozer. And with tipping fees at such a bargain, the economics don’t add up. That is why the most inspiring and inventive reuse mentors out there occur ont the fringes of the design and construction trades persistently plucking at the equation with a conviction for success.

Sambo Mockbee and D.K Ruth saw promise in the will of students to turn carpet tiles and windshields into homes and chapels. The rural poor of Alabama were thankful and the middle-class students worked for free. Dan Phillips scavenges through the dumpsters of East Texas and turns trash into treasure for low-income residents. Is it perfect system? Not by any means. These gems are photographed and championed, but are also often neglected and vandalized. The bulldozers keep on grinding and the landfills keep on growing. They sometimes go into foreclosure and get snapped up by eager middle-class aesthetes. But Dan will keep on building, reusing materials and putting people into shelter. There’s a profit making equation in there somewhere.