Sheet rock and brand new lumber from the hardware store seem awfully boring – and incredibly wasteful – when you see the beautiful homes and other structures that can be built from recycled materials. An entire Buddhist temple made from glass bottles, modern modular shipping container homes, houseboats perched on land and resort lodging in a vintage ‘60s airplane are just a few of the awesome buildings that make use of unconventional and sometimes offbeat recycled junk.
Don’t throw those empty glass beer bottles in the recycling bin – use them to build a house! Or, perhaps, an absolutely amazing Buddhist temple in Thailand. It took one million beer bottles to create this temple, which stands not only as proof that recycled and reclaimed building materials can be truly beautiful, but as a reminder of the waste that we generate.
Because of their translucency and ability to hold thermal mass, glass bottles are also often used in cob building to enhance natural daylighting for a stained glass effect.
Who would have thought that grain silos could be so luxurious? Ubiquitous sights in rural pastures, disused grain silos can often be purchased and moved to create unusual circular homes. Some people use them for quick, upcycled eco-friendly dwellings on the cheap, while others have given them a remarkably modern makeover. Grain silos even have potential for durable, inexpensive prefab housing.
When John Milkovisch retired, he got bored – but he didn’t turn to golf for entertainment. He began adding ‘aluminum siding’ to his Houston, Texas home in the form of flattened beer cans “for both practical and decorative reasons”, he says on his website. The house is now covered in 50,000 cans.
Of course, Milkovisch’s home isn’t the only building made from this rather random junk material. Aluminum cans are often used as ‘bricks’ in earthship building, stacked and mortared with lime or earth.
When piled high on a barge, shipping containers aren’t exactly fertile inspiration for recycled architecture – but creative thinkers have managed to turn these boring rectangular boxes into surprisingly beautiful homes, offices, apartments and dorms. Like giant modular metal Legos, shipping containers can be stacked into all sorts of configurations with a crane – and of course, they’re really easy to transport.
Millions upon millions of tires end up in landfills every year in the U.S. alone – but many are salvaged for creative uses like – drumroll please – building houses and other structures. Packed with rammed earth, tires make an incredibly solid building material that helps retain heat in winter and keep the building cool in the summertime. Off-gassing is said to be a non-issue, and tires work especially well when built into the earth as earthships often are.
Boats aren’t just for the water – as proven by numerous ‘house boats’ seemingly stranded on land, which people actually use as a primary residence. And how better to recycle a ship that’s no longer seaworthy? Huge ships like the Great Lakes Shipping Boat (top) – now known as The Ship Residence on an island in Lake Erie at Put-in-Bay, Ohio – make incredible seaside mansions that are quite a sight when seen from the water.
Wood pallets are plentiful, thrown out every day by companies that no longer trust them to keep merchandise safe during shipping. So how could they possibly be reused as a building material? Well, wood pallets are often still in great shape and can easily be nailed back together. And while they may not be a great load-bearing material for anything other than a shed, they do make a fantastic addition to building exteriors to filter sunlight.
A cardboard building may sound like the most temporary of structures – something you expect to find in a shantytown, not a suburban neighborhood. That it is, but imagine how such a material could be put to use for inexpensive emergency shelters that set up ultra-fast. Architects Stutchbury and Pape developed a $35,000 flat-packed prefab cardboard house made from 100% recycled materials with a waterproof outer membrane made of HDPE plastic.
Surrounded by industrial scrap metal every day for years, a former scrapyard owner saw a lot of potential for reuse – and put those ideas to work in his own home, a modern metal masterpiece 90 minutes northwest of Toronto. A rusted metal gate made from an old truck chassis, old galvanized steel siding and I-beams rescued from a demolition job are just a few elements of the mostly recycled home. And what will happen to this recycled home when it’s finally due to be demolished?
“With most houses, when they’re torn down, everything goes into a bin,” homeowner S. J. Sherbanuk told Dwell. “When this house gets pulled down 60 or 80 years from now, they won’t even need a bin. It’s all gonna get reused.”
They’re not exactly known for comfort when you’re flying the friendly skies, but take out all those seats and airplanes are really roomy. Just take a peek inside the 727 Fuselage Home at the Costa Verde resort in Costa Rica, a two-bedroom suite made from a refurbished vintage 1965 Boeing 727 airframe. Retired from its former hectic life as part of South Africa Air’s fleet, the salvaged airplane serves as a cozy and unique lodging perched atop a 50-foot pedestal for the feel of being in the air.