Architectural Upcycling


30 January 2017

For the environmental challenges that the modern world currently faces, recycling might not be enough. Wasteland, a new exhibition at the Danish Architecture Centre, investigates upcycling as its possible successor. Organised in collaboration with Copenhagen-based architecture practice the Lendager Group, Wasteland posits how waste can change society for the better by considering the upcycling potential of six materials: concrete, bricks, steel, glass, wood and plastic.

Upcycling refers to processes whereby would-be waste material is augmented rather than simply recycled. The term was initially used in 1994 by the German automation engineer Reiner Pilz, but has become particularly prevalent in recent years. In architecture, for instance, there is the trend of upcycling shipping containers to become shops, homes and workplaces. In 2013, architect William McDonough and ecological chemist Michael Braungart released The Upcycle, which cited upcycling as a practical way to improve the world. Earlier this year, the Swedish design studio Form Us With Love created a kitchen made from plastic bottles and reclaimed industrial wood. The studio claimed that its design is “world's first ever 100 per cent upcycled kitchen front system.”

Nearly 40 per cent of the world’s pollution is caused by construction, particularly through the production of the six aforementioned materials. For Anders Lendager, the CEO of the Lendager Group, upcycling can help mitigate the construction industry’s impact. "As designers and architects," says Lendager, "we have the responsibility to show that the things we consider waste can be designed and transformed into beautiful new resources.”

Wasteland is divided into six sections, each section being dedicated to a different material. The visitor first encounters the materials in their primary form, then has the opportunity to see their transformation into upcycled resources. By revealing these processes, Lendager hopes to increase knowledge and popularity of upcycling as a solution, which might provide an answer to the twin problems of declining resources and growing populations. The exhibition also features Upcycle House, a private house completed by the Lendager Group in 2013, which provides a tangible example of how upcycled materials can reduce carbon emissions. “Wasteland,” says Lendager, “is a new world, a new agenda where the waste is considered a resource.” This new world has already begun: all the exhibits have either already been implemented in architectural projects, are available as materials from the Lendager website, or are prototypes which will be used within the next six months.

Given how few have adopted upcycling, however, Lendager’s aim might appear idealistic. According to Lendager, the exhibition’s main purpose is to connect and engage, not just with entrepreneurs, designers and construction workers, but also with regular citizens who may, in the near future, live or work in the sort of upcycled building being proposed by the Lendager Group. Believing that his ideas will one day be widespread, Lendager places his hope in the younger generation. An area of Wasteland is dedicated to this “climate generation, the generation who will finally understand the value of this charge.”

What might distinguish the Lendager Group from other architecture practices is the way sustainability is ingrained into its services, rather than being sold as an extra. “People always think of sustainable elements as an add-on," says Lendager, "so these solutions have been disappearing from the projects." The company also prioritises affordability, and has researched upcycled materials to find those priced within the reach of a large and varied market. Lendager speculates that those already making conscientious changes to other aspects of their life will be especially interested in upcycling. “People are making moves towards healthier and more sustainable living every day.” It’s now the turn, he suggests, for architects and builders to follow this attitude.

Revealing the thorough process of upcycling and stressing the importance of affordability in the spreading of environmental ideas, Wasteland provides both an informed and informative perspective on the issues of sustainability. Lendager’s ideas might not be groundbreaking, but they are positive and well thought out, and should contribute to the rise of environmental concerns in the construction industry.