Buffalo, NY is a city which was thriving just 50 years ago. But the post-industrial city has outgrown itself. A residue from outdated infrastructures and a dwindling population is left behind: abandoned buildings lining entire blocks. It’s a city whose residents and enterprises are struggling financially, a city – like many in the world – facing a great deal of scarcity. Abandoned properties risk arson, drug activity, depreciated property values. Accompanying this is an alarming dependence on consumption, with little regard to the inevitable products of waste.
This project began by observing the breach between architectural practice and the actualities of the post-industrial city. Why are there homeless in a city full of vacant buildings? Can and should ethics surmount legal restraints? What role may the architect play in coordinating these social and economic tensions with the built environment? How can the discards of modern society mingle with the forgotten structures of a past era?
For $800, a blighted property is saved from demolition. I move in without heat, electricity, or running water bringing myself from detached designer to deprived occupant. In situ research then provides the basis for the project, as I begin to adapt the house and my lifestyle according to immediate conditions as well as foreseeable futures. Scavenged waste objects and materials from surrounding neighborhoods are used as an abundant source of building material, and through rationing and prioritization, necessary conditions for living are met and, eventually, exceeded. The process of retrofitting the house while living in it explores an alternative form of domesticity - where need and resourcefulness become a means of inspiring new forms, assemblies, and organizations.
It’s through this process – a process that hybridizes need, resourcefulness, empathy, adaptability, and the built environment – that alchemy can take effect. Freed from the grip of social and political machines, broken and tattered objects become spaces which are humble, conscientious, effective, nostalgic, and – despite their many imperfections – somehow charming.
This work may be seen as a sort of exaggeration – a critique of consumerism and the indifference to waste which has become the norm, of the sterility and preciousness of high design. If the responsibility of the architect is to situate material among context, the challenge is not to achieve a trashless space, but more flexible aesthetic and functional criteria to embed it in. Waste isn’t something to be shunned, but an underutilized resource capable of far more than we generally like to admit – not only a driver of ecological systems and financial accessibility, but an instigator of new, more relevant, breeds of architecture.
Location: Buffalo, NY, US
Additional Credits: Matthieu Bain