One Person’s Junk Is Another Person’s Treasure

After we put our daughter to bed each night, my husband Bart and I have discovered a show on which we both can agree: “Mysteries of the Abandoned” on the Science Channel. The show visits abandoned building projects throughout the world, explaining what makes them engineering marvels and why they were ultimately abandoned. One particular project, just outside of Buenos Aires, Argentina, caught my attention: Campanopolis, which was built by a supermarket magnate in the 1970s.

Campanopolis was built by a supermarket magnate in the 1970s outside of Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Alberto Campana was told he had five years to live when he was diagnosed with throat cancer in 1976, so he purchased about 618 acres of land, which had been a garbage dump, to build a whimsical village out of junk. With no architectural training, Campana’s designs can be compared to a real-life Alice in Wonderland. He bought materials from buildings being demolished, discontinued rail lines and antique shops. For example, Campanopolis features doors from a horse-racing venue in Buenos Aires and seats from a defunct movie theater. Many of his designs refute what is typical, such as roofs for floors. Ultimately, Campana created a dream world that is absolutely stunning in its creativity and its testimony that “junk” can be beautiful.

In this issue of retrofit, we take a closer look at how we think about waste in the construction and design industry. Jim Schneider, our “Trend Alert” columnist, writes that waste diversion not only keeps usable materials from landfills, which are filling up, but also can save money on projects while combating climate change. Schneider brings together a blend of experts who are moving away from our culture of disposability and toward reuse in very unique ways.

For example, Larry Pierce, founder and owner of LCP Group in Vestal, N.Y., has made materials reuse part of his business model. He was inspired out of necessity. “We tore down a 20,000-square-foot furniture store and I was taking out the steel I-beams and they were about $200 per piece for us to scrap,” Pierce says. “I called a local mill and found that buying new ones would be $1,800 to $2,000 per piece. At the same time, we were trying to build a log timber-frame home and the timber-frame trusses were about $20,000, so we just used the I-beams. The value-add was there. It became a mindset for us: Let’s not throw this stuff out; let’s try to reuse it.”

A lifelong hockey enthusiast, Pierce built a hockey rink on his own farm entirely from scrapped materials. He notes building the rink, in honor of his deceased sister who also was passionate about hockey, would not have been financially possible with new materials. Today, anyone in Pierce’s community is invited to skate at the rink. He hosts groups and individual skaters, as well as hockey tournaments. When speaking to Pierce about the rink—and materials reuse, in general—his passion for the subject is infectious. Materials reuse obviously is more than just a business model to him.

In fact, it’s not a coincidence that we featured materials reuse in our health-care-focused issue. Alberto Campana was so passionate about building Campanopolis that he lived 24 more years after his throat-cancer diagnosis. Perhaps materials reuse is good for more than just the planet.

About the Author

Christina A. Koch
Christina A. Koch is editorial director and associate publisher of retrofit.

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