Found Object Architecture

Photo by Lv Hengzhong

One of the discussion topics in Material Strategies this week was the Ningbo Historical Museum designed by Wang Shu of Amateur Architecture Studio, pictured above. I described it, on first sight, as looking like “found object architecture.” It turns out that the description was close to accurate, because the various masonry materials cladding the building all came from a Ningbo neighborhood razed for larger scale development. While cladding a “new development” building in the history of the place for which it stands is in itself an act that provokes discussion, I instead have found interest in seeking out other forms of “found object architecture.” I wondered what other innovations were taking place using old, worn out, dumped materials. Taking a studio based on Bio-Inspired design helped to establish a starting point for the search.

Photo by Sharon Beals

The bird’s nest is representative of the way nature finds objects, whether natural or bits of contemporary consumerism, to build habitat for survival. Sharon Beals’ photography has captured many beautiful examples of the architecture of birds. In the above example, the found objects are things that one might find in their trash: sewing scraps, plastic, paper, cellophane, twist ties, etc. Nature’s devices for shelter give an excellent first example of “found object architecture” that serves as a reminder that garbage is free and it can, in fact, be used to make good shelter. In contrast to the seemingly ingenious construction of the bird nest, humanity is faced with the necessity sometimes to use similar ingenuity to construct shelter from waste as well. Unfortunately the beauty, safety and cleanliness of the human shelter of waste, is in many examples incomparable to what nature has managed especially when considering standards that have been reached through human design. This begs the question then: can we make shelter with waste that provides essential human needs and comforts at no cost? Could we learn tips and tricks to do so from nature? I believe that this question, surely asked numerous times before, gives rise to debate that could, and perhaps, should be addressed. For now, however, I would like to end with innovative examples I’ve found that could be working toward possible solutions to the question.

Photo from

This home in Haiti, conceived by Michael Reynolds, is resistant to many natural disasters. It serves as shelter with amenities providing basic human comforts and is constructed largely from recycled materials.

Photo from

Our youth is coming up with innovative ideas on using garbage to create shelter. Aimed at providing a place for the homeless, 12-year old Max Wallack design the Home Dome out of plastic, metal and foam.

Photo by Bonnie Alter

The last example is not of living shelter in this image, but it brings to mind a children’s books series, the Boxcar Children, where four orphan siblings avoid being split up by running away and making home in a boxcar filled with their junkyard treasures. Innovation comes in many forms and I think it is exceptionally ingenious to live safely, healthily, and comfortably in homes/shelters made from unused, found objects.


One response to “Found Object Architecture

  1. Reblogged this on Where the Mind Roams and commented:
    The first photograph . . . I could imagine someone walking in between those two walls, marveling at the walls’s appearances. Eventually, the tilted walls seem to lean forward and begin to enclose him. His breath becomes short as his imaginative bout of paranoia takes over. He crawls on his callused hands and beaten knees to escape an immediate death — or at least what appears to him to be. Finally, the bout of paranoia ceases. The man gets off his knees with onlookers shooting him quizzical looks. He flashes a small smile and walks away as if nothing ever happened.

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