From Trash to Ornament: Architects and Designers Give New Life to Discarded Objects

From Trash to Ornament: Architects and Designers Give New Life to Discarded Objects

From Trash to Ornament: Architects and Designers Give New Life to Discarded Objects

A vital aspect of a circular economy lies in shifting our view of waste. Labeling an item “waste” implies voiding its value and ending its useful role in a traditionally linear economy. While the item might be out of sight and out of mind, its life continues in the landfill. This shift in perspective regarding waste means opening our minds to the opportunity that the abundance of junk presents. These designers and architects have managed to not only effectively reclaim discarded objects but also to make them look precious, imbuing them with new meaning and value through their careful curation.



The Salvage Chair Series / Jay Sae Jung Oh

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In Seattle, South Korean designer and artist Jay Sae Jung Oh takes discarded household items and turns them into ornamental leather-wrapped chairs. The “Salvage Chair” series was born out of the desire to bring attention to disposable culture.


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“The genesis of my inspiration lies in the everyday objects that inhabit our lives. Despite living surrounded by so many objects, we often fail to acknowledge their value and are constantly consumed by the pursuit of new things.” – Jay Sae Jung Oh

Her process involves gathering abandoned items and assembling them into new forms that she then wraps with leather cords. Obscured by the leather, these objects take new shapes as they meld into one another, creating complex pieces that exist in between furniture and sculpture.

The Circus Canteen / Multitude of Sins

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In Bangalore, India, Interior design studio Multitude of Sins designed a restaurant interior using less than 10% newly sourced materials. Commissioned by the artistic community of “Bangalore Creative Circus,” this 2,134 sqft project was completed in 2021. Through an unconventional curatorial process, MOS designed surface finishes, lighting, furniture, and art installations almost entirely from a city-wide donation drive, salvage markets, and dumping yards. Their design process relied heavily on what was available within the city’s discarded resources, resulting in a distinctive array of colors and textures.

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The entrance arches were fashioned from scrap metal and coated in a teal hue, while chandeliers were ingeniously crafted from bike chains and metal filings. Upcycled vehicle headlights were repurposed as lighting fixtures, and the flooring was composed of discarded display flooring samples. A patchwork collage of discarded wallpaper swatches creates an eye-catching backdrop for the food counter. 

Kamikatzu Zero Waste Center / Hiroshi Nakamura & NAP

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Designed by Hiroshi Nakamura and NAP, the Zero Waste Center challenges our ways of consumption through both its program and its aesthetics. Located in Kamikatzu, Japan, its facade is a collage of 700 windows donated by the local community. The building’s interior and exterior comprise a patchwork of used items and locally harvested cedar wood.

In an interview with Stirworld, the architects detailed the meticulous process behind their design. They worked closely with the town and volunteers, measuring each of the 700 windows and noting glass thickness and necessary repairs. These measurements then informed the elevation drawings. While for most, the irregularity of the items would be seen as undesirable, the architects decided to embrace their imperfection.

“Most of the logs, fittings, furniture, and other materials used in this project are uneven. In an economy of mass production and consumption, uneven materials are disliked and considered ugly and imperfect because they are difficult to pack, load, and control, and their quality is difficult to guarantee. Therefore, waste is generated in order to achieve uniformity, and those that are out of specification are discarded. However, we considered the uneven shapes as a unique characteristic of the object and treated it with affection in its uneven form, which we believe gives the Kamikatsu Zero Waste Center a lot of character.” – Hiroshi Nakamura 

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The architectural field holds vast potential to explore new aesthetic directions and types of beauty by using discarded materials at our disposal. By working with the uneven, dissimilar, and aged, new aesthetics can help us re-evaluate our relationship with waste and give new life to the discarded. This presents a new role for architects and designers, not just as makers of new things but as curators of the existing.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on November 03, 2023.

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