Radical Materials [brick-collage]

Radical Materials [brick-collage]

Modern material handling requires revolutionary thinking.

With the increasing scarcity of virgin raw materials, demolition sites represent an untapped resource, a stockpile of potentially valuable, pre-used materials. This project aims to re-think waste by designing a catalogue of new materials with it. However, its purpose is not to debate the pros and cons of using materials but to present a diverse range of methods of dealing with reclaimed materials and spaces within African countries.

Arguably, nowhere on this planet, it’s more evident than in developing cities, where there is perpetual urban growth and increase in population. However, this leads to significant amounts of consumption and waste. We extract; we make; consume, and discard. A new product comes out, we discard the old one, and this model will simply not work long term. So what can?

Waste is seemingly inseparable from the built form is an integral part of our urban fabric. However, most of our buildings deteriorate, and we either abandon or demolish them. Demolition is an unsustainable and expensive method for dealing with old buildings. Our old buildings are immersed with stories and heritage, and they are calling for re-use, a repurpose.

The concept of bricolage is a useful tool in tackling wastefulness. Waste is not only a local resource but a natural material for practices of bricolage. Bricoleurs are lateral thinkers; they collect scraps and pieces left by others. They gather scraps in ways that are simultaneously unique yet familiar. What makes bricoleurs remarkable is their ability to take what is available and turn it into poetry. This concept should not seem unfamiliar or foreign in our societies, but a logical extension of everyday values and life.

There is a clear emphasis on making do, restricted resources, innovation, imagination and necessity, but also reordering, subversion and transformation. Upcycling in architecture depends solely on a designer’s creativity and ingenuity to pioneer new applications. It is fundamental to consolidate material and design together in such a way that makes use of reclaimed materials justified by the artistic merit of the results. This work supports the idea that it’s the designer’s ingenuity, rather than the material, that matters. When implementing the recycling method, it is significant to have an overview of the availability of materials because this will determine the nature of the product created. 

It is significant to underline that, ideally, the Upcycling methodologies respect the principles of local products. The reclaimed material in Upcycling is usually collected on the same site where it originates and used on the same site. However, this contributes to resolving environmental and social issues related to the globalisation of the construction industry and its reliance on transportation. By allowing the largest possible amount of waste to be given value, Upcycling solves the problems associated with the waste within our urban fabric.

Spatial bricolage is an art or practice that affords the user the liberty to decode and personalize a space with a diverse catalogue of artefacts from various places, designed by different artisans. It harnesses creativity and the possibility of discovery. One of the benefits of bricolage in residential settings is; interior spaces leave an immense impression on the guest’s mind. Each artefact has a story of origin, and the user can curate a collective story out of the collection with a degree of personalization. Residents can adapt architectural elements to their needs through the flexibility facilitated to them.

The freedom of this practice allows the resident to not only exhibit their individuality but also allows for exploration. Spatial Bricolage frees the user from stigmas and with a little bit of delight and imagination, it provides an opportunity to explore and learn from our cultural processes. A salvage culture can help address the desire for newness, one of the motives behind wastefulness.

The synergy between architecture, upcycling and bricolage presents a paradigm shift in how we think of waste, architecture and product design. This design strategy accounts for future prospects, and offers the user an incentive to influence the design in any way imaginable. The question is no longer what can we do that is new, but what can we do with what we have? Ask the brick what it wants to be. 


– To practice bricolage, Alexander J Witko, B.S. University of Maryland, 2003

– Spatial Bricolage, Seema Khanwalker, 2020

– Bricolage: The architecture of waste, Senzo Mamba, University of Johannesburg (GSA, 2019