Green Building With Recycled Materials

Green building with recycled materials. The author finds new ways to use recycled cans and other materials to create eco-friendly structures.

| June/July 2000

  • Green building with recycled materials
    The Center for Maximum Building Potential in Austin Texas, encompasses every aspect of green building, from natural lighting to rain catchment to alternative materials like fly ash cinder block, straw bale and steel framing.
    PHOTO: MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
  • Austin Green Building Program
    The Austin Green Building Program, a city-funded group organized under the direction of architect Pliny Fisk (below with co-director Gail Vittori ) and his Center for Maximum Building Potential, was recognized by the United Nations in 1992 as ""an exemplary initiative for the environment."" Because of Fisk's and Austin's success, residential green building programs have been launched around the country to teach builders about ""ecooptions,"" like alternative materials and energy-saving ideas.
    PAUL BARDAGJY
  • Center for Maximum Building Potential
    The Center for Maximum Building Potential in Austin Texas, encompasses every aspect of green building, from natural lighting to rain catchment to alternative materials like fly ash cinder block, straw bale and steel framing.
    PAUL BARDAGJY
  • Center for Maximum Building Potential green building
    The Center for Maximum Building Potential in Austin Texas, encompasses every aspect of green building, from natural lighting to rain catchment to alternative materials like fly ash cinder block, straw bale and steel framing.
    KRISTIAN KISINSKI
  • Center for Maximum Building Potential green building
    The Center for Maximum Building Potential in Austin Texas, encompasses every aspect of green building, from natural lighting to rain catchment to alternative materials like fly ash cinder block, straw bale and steel framing.
    KRISTIAN KISINSKI
  • Max's Pot
    The inside of Max's Pot, as Fisk's center is affectionately known, is a green builder's reference library. Either through testing or building, the center puts to use a variety of earthen and other indigenous materials, including adobe, rammed earth, caliche, laterite, fly ash and natural pozzolan cements, rice husk ash cement and alumina clay brick. To present flexible spacial solutions, Fisk uses computer-enhanced images. A one-room private bathroom now becomes a multifunctioning area. The built-in and drawn curtains can section the room off into a dressing area, a bathroom and a laundry room if need be. To solve heating problems, Fisk has also invented a ""kitchen on wheels."" The solar oven, the rainwater-fed sink and the propane refrigerator can be moved from room to room or even outside during the lengthy Texas summer.
    PAUL BARDAGJY
  • Center for Maximum Building Potential green building
    The Center for Maximum Building Potential in Austin Texas, encompasses every aspect of green building, from natural lighting to rain catchment to alternative materials like fly ash cinder block, straw bale and steel framing.
    KRISTIAN KISINSKI
  • Center for Maximum Building Potential green building
    The Center for Maximum Building Potential in Austin Texas, encompasses every aspect of green building, from natural lighting to rain catchment to alternative materials like fly ash cinder block, straw bale and steel framing.
    KRISTIAN KISINSKI
  • Center for Maximum Building Potential green building
    The Center for Maximum Building Potential in Austin Texas, encompasses every aspect of green building, from natural lighting to rain catchment to alternative materials like fly ash cinder block, straw bale and steel framing.
    KRISTIAN KISINSKI
  • Max's Pot
    How flexible your green home will be through the years is another consideration of the design stage. Max's Pot is Erector Set-like in its adaptability, with each separate component easily disassembled and reused. Walls can be removed and fitted elsewhere, while tables can be temporarily raised to ceilings, with the use of cranks and chains, to conserve space.
    KRISTIAN KISINSKI
  • Center for Maximum Building Potential green building
    The Center for Maximum Building Potential in Austin Texas, encompasses every aspect of green building, from natural lighting to rain catchment to alternative materials like fly ash cinder block, straw bale and steel framing.
    PAUL BARDAGJY
  • Green house built from 90% recycled Styrofoam.
    This soon-to-be thatched roof barn in Seguin,Texas, has walls made with 90% recycled Styrofoam.
    AUSTIN ENERGY
  • Residential green home in Austin, Texas
    Not all green buildings are geodesic domes and earthships. This residential home in Austin, Texas, was built by Casa Verde Builders, a group that constructs energy-efficient and ecologically sound structures.
    AUSTIN ENERGY
  • Green home rammed earth walls
    This house just outside of Austin is built with rammed earth walls downstairs and compressed soil block upstairs. At right, workers create walls by pumping earth into wooden forms.
    AUSTIN ENERGY

  • Green building with recycled materials
  • Austin Green Building Program
  • Center for Maximum Building Potential
  • Center for Maximum Building Potential green building
  • Center for Maximum Building Potential green building
  • Max's Pot
  • Center for Maximum Building Potential green building
  • Center for Maximum Building Potential green building
  • Center for Maximum Building Potential green building
  • Max's Pot
  • Center for Maximum Building Potential green building
  • Green house built from 90% recycled Styrofoam.
  • Residential green home in Austin, Texas
  • Green home rammed earth walls

Learn about green building with recycled materials.

"The world we have created today as a result of our thinking thus far has problems that cannot be solved by thinking the way we thought when we created them." — Albert Einstein

Last fall, I attended a conference on recycling in Washington DC and the keynote speaker happened to be William McDonough, dean of architecture at the University of Virginia and Time magazine's 1996 Hero For The Planet. Now, I don't know about you, but when I think of recycling my Coke can, I'm not thinking about designing a house. McDonough, on the other hand, is. As he sees it, recycling cans and building eco-friendly structures arc at two ends of one long sustainability continuum that begins with materials. For McDonough, the question isn't so much: to throw away or not? It's more: Can we build a better can or bridge or house?

It's a sensible question, really; we're already capable of producing biodegradable polymers and cornstarch-based plastics. Is it such a stretch to think we can make houses that biodegrade?

The incentive is certainly there: Building is one of the largest contributors of nondecomposable and toxic waste in the world. According to David Malin and Nicholas Lenssen, authors of Worldwatch Paper 124 (Worldwatch Institute, 1995), the global building industry uses 3 billion tons, or 40%, of the raw materials taken from the planet every year. Moreover, the industry expropriates 40% of the world's energy for construction and building operations. Here in the United States, building accounts for 20% of the 221.7 million tons of trash we toss out daily; that's 44.34 million tons of trash coming from our building sites each day. Imagine how much cleaner our water and land would be if we built with materials that not only turned back into soil when we finished with them, but also added nutritional value to that soil when they decomposed.



"We must make buildings like trees," an inspired McDonough says. "Our buildings must give back more than they use."

Simply take a look at The Gap Inc. office complex in San Bruno, California, where the roof harbors native grasses and wildflowers, or the new environmental studies building at Ohio's Oberlin College, which produces more energy than it consumes, and you will understand McDonough's vision. These "fecund structures," as he calls them, purify water, produce oxygen and sequester carbon dioxide . . . just like trees.






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