Friday, June 10, 2005


Last week United Nations World Environment Day was celebrated in San Francisco, with the theme of Green Cities. On the excellent show "Living on Earth" there was a segment on the ScrapHouse built this month in San Francisco, by more than 80 volunteers, of reclaimed and recycled materials from salvage yards, dumps, or waste piles at active construction sites.

From the transcript:
"We have a large crew of scrap mongers, scrap salvagers out around the city ... This is extra glazing from the construction process which ordinarily would just go into the rebox to the landfill. The siding is the stuff that looks like it came out of your, my grandfather's smoking lounge in the basement of his house in Philadelphia in the '50s and it was at the back of some warehouse.

"The structure is metal studs which came out of old tenant improvement and other construction jobs in San Francisco. It's all patched together, but you know structurally it works if it's put together right.

"There's a leather floor in the bedroom ... [there's a] large table in the living room, an artist is making out of cardboard, recycled cardboard.
The pictures you see here come from the ScrapHouse Website which says that after the conference, "ideally, the house will be disassembled, moved, and relocated on a permanent site. To donate or suggest a site, please email"

I was excited when I heard this segment on the show, but disappointed when I saw these pictures. Nobody I know would live in a house like this.

Cute ideas, ugly execution: a chandelier made of tail-lights, one wall built of exposed phonebooks, a floor tiled with leather scraps left over from upholstery jobs, and an exceptionally hideous wall made of computer keyboards.

The exterior is defiantly ugly. Is this really the best San Francisco could do?

I know builders who have been using scavenged materials for decades and they build places far more appealing than this, more respectful, more enduring, and far more deserving of the space they occupy.

For instance, one of my musician-builder pals took the rafters from my old carport and used them in his own house, which is built predominantly of things no longer wanted by others. When his upscale customers (disciples of "Fine Homebuilding") have him rip out perfectly good kitchen cabinets because they need new ones made of purplewood, he always finds homes for the rejected ones. He saves windows and has a fantastic collection of salvaged items from old homes.

For another example, we stayed several times in a gracious, only somewhat funky beach-house called "Chateau Debris" built on Sullivan's Island outside Charleston out of materials which floated down the streets after Hurricane Andrew.

By the way, did you know that the whole of Sullivan's Island was under water for a while during that hurricane? I was told it happened because the homeowners along the shore had all bulldozed their dunes because the dunes blocked the view.

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At 7:02 AM, Blogger emaleejayne said...

Hello, Michele sent me!

Its true, that house is ugly, but unique! ;)

What are those things on the outside? Crosswalk signs??

At 9:09 AM, Anonymous colleen said...

Thanks for the interesting week's worth of reading. Now I really must get breakfast.

At 3:12 PM, Blogger The Complimenting Commenter said...

I agree that the idea has a lot of merit. Execution needs to be worked on. Great review and a great post. The pictures are interesting to say the least. Thanks for posting it.

At 4:09 PM, Blogger Kimberly said...

Wonderful post, Melinama! I was in San Francisco on June 2, but unfortunately knew nothing about this.

I agree that it's not a thing of beauty, and I wouldn't want to live in it either. However, I have friends in the 20- to 30-something sustainable architecture hipeoisie who would be thrilled to have this place.

And, for the record, there's a lot of mainstream suburban housing that is (at least to my eye) just as ugly as this. However, it is more familiar, which makes it more palatable to a wider audience.

At 6:44 PM, Blogger kenju said...

Melinama, go to
and read the link she provided today on urban decay. You'd have a wealth of recyclable materials here, but I think they should be
reclaimed and put to use again.

At 7:42 PM, Blogger kenju said...

Michele sent me back, Melinama.

At 11:37 PM, Blogger Badaunt said...

It's a shame they didn't make it a bit more... liveable, isn't it?

I have a friend in NZ who built his entire house from cast-off bits from other constructions. It's beautiful.

At 3:14 PM, Anonymous Pearl said...

I would like to think you're joking about bulldozing sanddunes for the view but then, it seems just the short-sightedness that some would do. Raze trees off hillsides and be startled by mudslides, build on a floor plain and not expect flooding...we are funny creatures.

At 12:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The ScrapHouse website say's the project was taken to the scrapyard after they were finished with it. So much for recycling! Trying to build a house out of junk, and pass any sort of building codes would be next to impossible. Besides, a house with no wiring or plumbing is not very livable.


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