I have always been interested in what it takes to make something, what ingredients are in the prepared food we eat and where they came from. The idea of being connected to and enjoying our local food supply has spurred the slow food and locavore movements, which are gaining popularity, to our taste buds delight. But its really a return to how farmers have produced food for centuries.
By DOMINIQUE DAVISON
Special to The Star
In graduate school, I began to think about how this idea applies to the homes we build. Where do the materials come from? Who harvests, processes, manufactures and ships the materials? What is the effect of this process, and how do we make it more visible to the folks who are buying and building homes?
Just as our food supply and production methods have globalized, so has our access to everything else, including building materials. It is not uncommon to have stone counters from the other side of the world without thinking twice about it, and we pick up lumber from the hardware store but we have little idea what forest it was cut from. But lets envision for a moment what the locavore version of residential building might look like.
Our regions natural resources for construction include plenty of clay from our soils (which explains the history of brick use and production), wood from local forests, various kinds of stone, and our lead and iron mines. Not a bad palette, but while we are thinking of being as resourceful as possible, what about the materials that are already on hand and have been processed for construction?
These are readily available if you are willing to consider the adage that one persons trash is anothers treasure.
According to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, the large metropolitan areas St. Louis and Kansas City account for about 58 percent of Missouris total waste but 88 percent of the states construction waste. And about 18.5 percent of our landfills are composed of demolition and new construction waste. So there is plenty of material on hand.
Locally, we now have workers who are trained in deconstruction, and these numbers are growing. Thank, among others, the Kansas City Kansas Community College program and Green Impact Zone efforts. Kansas City area-based Elmwood Reclaimed Timber and Planet ReUse have made businesses of using reclaimed materials that almost always lend an interesting story about their previous life.
Of course, Habitat for Humanitys ReStore is a wonderful resource for reclaimed materials.
There is also a growing group of artisans who turn these materials into thoughtful and sometimes surprisingly polished works.
Scott George Beattie is a Kansas City furniture designer and maker familiar with the challenges of using reclaimed wood. I asked him his thoughts on the matter.
Marks and patina reveal the woods former life, he said. Its a responsible and honorable way to use materials that have already served us before. If one is resourceful, reclaimed woods can be fairly inexpensive and sometimes free.
On the other hand, many lumber mills now specialize in premium reclaimed materials and are well equipped to properly dimension and dry materials for building. This stock will come at a higher cost, so much as to sometimes prohibit it as a viable option.
The issue of cost is a real one. But as Brennan Crawford, the Construction Green-Up Program coordinator, argued, the quality of reclaimed wood is typically much higher than that of the wood available in mills. Much of the reclaimed wood is old growth; it has a tighter structure and is therefore stronger or harder. Also, as deconstruction and building materials reuse becomes more common, these high-quality materials could become more affordable, and we could start to see a much wider selection of products in the mainstream market.
Using or sourcing reclaimed materials and products might have challenges, but knowing the beautiful piece of furniture or siding for your home came from a building with a history all its own and was given new life can be a rewarding investment.
If you are interested in learning more about this topic, please visit our website, now DrawArch.com, or follow us on Facebook. We are sponsoring a symposium in January Resource: Reclamation, at 405 Southwest Blvd.
Dominique Davison is founding principal of DRAW Architecture + Urban Design and is an adjunct professor of Architecture at the University of Kansas.