Book Review: Rematerial

Rematerial: From Waste to Architecture by Alejandro Bahamón and Maria Camila Sanjinés
W. W. Norton, 2010
Paperback, 340 pages

In my neck of the woods (New York City) a lot of attention is being lavished upon MoMA's latest exhibition Small Scale, Big Change and the "eleven architectural projects on five continents that respond to localized needs in underserved communities." A number of the projects utilize local labor, vernacular construction, and common and/or natural materials, but very few (overtly) recycled materials were integrated into the their design and construction. So as I revisited one of Alejandro Bahamón's recent books and I couldn't help think that a number of the case studies would be fitting additions to MoMA's show. These include the Azkoitia Municipal Library in Spain by Estudio Beldarrain (made from wooden railroad ties); Millegomme Cascoland in Cape Town, South Africa by REFUNC.NL (shelters built from old car tires); and a new headquarters for the Open Classroom Association in Granada, Spain (built from pallets and salvaged elements--windows, doors, etc.--from an old building). These three, and others in the book, may fit within the show's overriding social emphasis, but single-family houses by people who don't mind living in shipping containers and the like, restaurants, bars, and others not aligned with the theme are also found, showing how today's designs that incorporates old materials and assemblies bridge across various building types.

Rematerial is comprised of 34 case studies in five chapters on various typologies and an introductory chapter devoted to initiatives that have the potential to span multiple projects. At best I was familiar with half of the projects/designers when I first opened the book; the variety is impressive. In addition to the ones noted above, well known projects like the Big Dig House and projects emanating from Studio 804 and Rural Studio are found alongside lesser known designs like QENEP's Ecological Stove Workshop (it incorporates recycled diapers!) and Sheffield University's Space of Waste (it uses die-cuts and other waste generated in the process of design manufacturer). Ground zero for creative recycling appears to be the Netherlands and Dutch architects REFUNC.NL, who have four projects in these pages as well as an essay by co-founder Jan Körbes. His and the other essays interspersed between the chapters are helpful in framing the ideas found in the projects, and further aid can be found in a short but quality bibliography and list of web sites. And of course mention must be given to the diagrams that illustrate how each project recycles its primary material or assembly; in most cases they don't say more than the accompanying text, but their graphics become useful for making the processes and designs memorable, more than the photos that can be found in just about every other book...and exhibition.