The green house that is (literally) rubbish

By Virginia Marsh

Old toothbrushes, cut-up jeans, video cassettes and mattress filling: landfill fodder, or the building blocks for a family home?

According to a team of engineers in the UK, it’s the latter.

In fact, these are all items that are being put to use in the construction of the UK’s first permanent building made entirely from waste.

‘The House that Kevin Built’ takes its name from a prototype that Kevin McCloud, presenter of the Channel 4 series ‘Grand Designs’, shimmied up in just six days at a 2010 exhibition in London.

The current £300,000 project is more long term.

Based at the University of Brighton, it has developed over four years of stakeholder engagement, involving the university (which has provided the site), the council, local schools, environmental groups and business partners.

Building work finally got underway in November 2012.

Brighton MP Caroline Lucas laid the first brick in November 2012, hailing it as “good for creating jobs and good for the environment”.

The project shows what can be achieved when waste is incorporated into design and construction, says Jon Lee of the Ecology Building Society: “It’s a leap forward in highlighting the effectiveness of such materials.”

The brainchild of Duncan Baker-Brown, the local architect behind the first house, the 80m² building will have a wooden frame, which will include leftovers from other construction projects, glued and nailed together.

The interesting part is the ‘cassettes’ that will fill in the gaps between the internal and external walls.

These removable components will comprise different types of waste – from plastic bottles filled with sand to pieces of denim from cut-off jeans – donated by a local repair worker.

“Waste chains can be tested and trialled. That’s what I love about this building”, says Paul Kellaway of the social housing group Mears, a corporate sponsor of the project. The ‘learning’ legacy is as important as the physical one, he adds.

Mears has seconded about 20 apprentices to the scheme.

The mainly teenage trainees will help with plumbing and wiring, and other elements of the fit-out, alongside university students.

“We grabbed this opportunity with both hands,” he says. “Apprentices are important drivers in community-building, and this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for them.”

VIDEO: Film maker Mick Hawksworth’s latest Bulletin from the development, December 2012

The article first appeared in Green Futures Magazine and has been reproduced with the permission of the publishers.

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