For a presentation at the Focus The Nation Conference, and later, an exhibit called Salvations, our team highlighted the salvage opportunities in post-Katrina New Orleans while demonstrating a feasible strategy for upcycling material waste.

the salvaged table, with an assortment of found materials presented on top.
1 / 4 more↓ the salvaged table, with an assortment of found materials presented on top.

In the streets of post-Katrina New Orleans, trash heaps have become commonplace. Gutted houses frame mountains of soggy sheetrock, worn-out flooring and tired windows. This refuse provides a visual testament to just how much our residents have lost. Although homeowners willingly toss these materials, the bulk of this waste is reusable. Grand architectural fixtures of the last century—- decadent moldings and solid true wood, windows, doors, cabinetry, and tongue and groove flooring—- have value born out of the fact that they simply aren’t replaceable. These items can be directly reused in another location or even upcycled to a different, better use.

To test this theory, a team of students from Tulane’s School of Architecture investigated the real-world logistics of incorporating salvaged materials for architectural reuse. They targeted one typical trash pile along a street in a flooded mid-city neighborhood. Initially, they picked apart the heap of debris to determine the amount and type of refuse generated by a typical gutted house. Then they looked at what they could construct with the materials from one single trash heap—- and the process of rebuilding by diverting this waste from the landfill.