Contributed by Julia Mollner
Imagine a construction site where material waste is minimized or absent; where any excess usable material is intentionally set aside; where project teams collectively choose to reuse.
The Useful Waste Initiative was conceived with this idea in mind; the idea that preemptive intentional action can divert excess construction waste and better serve the community. As a program of Portland State University’s Center for Public Interest Design, this initiative aligns with its mission to aid underserved communities while working within the typical construction workflow. The intent of this initiative is to redefine what is considered waste, and to utilize an overlooked material resource - construction mock-ups - by re-purposing them while responding to pressing social needs.
Mock-ups play an integral role on the construction site by demonstrating and establishing high quality procedures for building systems, sequencing, and installation. Project teams use the structure to perform tests, understand material compatibility, and demonstrate design aesthetics. It is used for quality assurance and a demonstration of design. Yet, as mock-ups act to save time and money with building installation errors, these mock-ups are seen as temporary structures and typically end up at landfills, which create the opposite output: waste and emissions.
Backtrack two years ago, when the Kenton’s Women Village in Portland, Oregon was going through the development process. This village is based on other local villages such as Right 2 Dream Too, Dignity Village, and Hazelnut Grove, which have their own communal governance. The village-model provides what living on the streets often cannot - privacy, personal safety, property safety, a quiet space, access to clean drinking and bathing water, and cooking facilities. Villages are comprised of small sleeping rooms, also called “sleeping pods”, which are built by individuals or village residents to house one or two people. These sleeping pods create a communal village of residents under a self-governance. With Portland in a State of Housing Emergency, these villages started a local mindset shift. Although these “sleeping pods” do not have electricity or plumbing, they serve a critical purpose - housing first.
After my participation in the Kenton Women’s Village construction and alongside my own professional construction contract administration experience, I began questioning what purpose a mock-up could serve after use on a construction site. Do these structures - similar to tiny homes - need to go to the landfill?
The Useful Waste Initiative aims to first divert mock-ups from the landfill and second, to build a new and integrated system that can positively affect the environment, social needs, and economic issues. There needs to be a feedback loop where mock-ups are designed to specific design parameters in a way that fosters reuse and mobility. Currently we are focused on providing basic shelter, but moving forward, these mock-ups can be used for other functions: public washrooms, dayworker bus stop shelters, tool sheds, mobile stages, or public art pavilions.
There are many factors involved in the process of pre-planning, donating, transporting, and converting these mock-ups after use on the construction site. Buy-in from the whole project team is important to set material diversion and reduction of waste as a primary goal. Project teams benefit from potential tax credits with charitable tax donations, innovation credit points with LEED and other sustainable certification paths and reducing environmental impacts from material waste.
With concerns of liability, transportation, costs, time, and coordination, the Useful Waste team is developing a Guidebook that outlines the process and provides the background research teams need to feel confident participating in this initiative. The Guidebook includes basic design parameters (size, weight, materials), schematic specifications, and details. It intends to guide project teams along the path to reuse and challenge teams to push further than minimum mock-up requirements. The most useful donated mock-ups are a four walled structure on a wood-framed base - not concrete - that is no larger than 8 feet by 12 feet by 11 feet tall. Along with the mock-up guidelines, contractors can donate usable excess materials or labor to support the final build after use on their construction site. This is a team decision, where each member of the project team plays an integral role to successfully donate, divert, and convert. Owners need to provide the “okay” to donate. Architects need to be drafting their mock-ups to the set forth design parameters. Contractors need to build to the design standards. Further, contractors and subcontractors have the potential option to donate extra material or skilled labor to finish the mock-up enclosure beyond the baseline standard set forth in the guidebook.
In the end, this initiative is about the AEC profession serving our communities. "
The Useful Waste Initiative process works smoothly and with minimal extra work by project teams, as to ease the burden for entry. It reduces construction material waste and serves the community by providing much-needed shelter. After all, when we build, we are building spaces for people and all people have a right to housing.
Want to learn more about the Useful Waste Initiative?
Check out: www.centerforpublicinterestdesign.org/useful-waste-initiative; or email Julia Mollner.
Want to support the research and future material and transportation costs?
Check out: https://www.gofundme.com/useful-waste-initiative
Center for Public Interest Design (CPID) is a “research [+action] center at Portland State University that aims to investigate, promote, and engage in inclusive design practices that address the growing needs of underserved communities worldwide. Through research and design, fieldwork, and public outreach, we promote a mode of practice that is socially conscious, environmentally sustainable, and economically accessible to all.”
Want to learn more about mock-ups in general? Read one of the original posts after LetsFixConstruction.com launched in August of 2016, 'Mockups: What's the Big Deal?' from our contributor Marvin Kemp.
Let's Fix Construction is an avenue to offer creative solutions, separate myths from facts and erase misconceptions about the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) industry.
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