Partnership for a Roadmap to the Building Materials Reuse Industry of the 21st Century

Laura Oakleaf

The building industry in the United States is responsible for an estimated 350 million tons of construction debris flowing into landfills per year. Beyond the environmental implications of this waste stream, the lost economic benefit is staggering.

Archeworks (a design school, research lab and think-tank based in Chicago) is leading a multi-year initiative to expand the building material reuse marketplace to capture wasted valuable materials and avoid environmental impacts from landfills. Collaborating closely with the Cook County Department of Environmental Control, the Building Material Reuse Association, the ReBuilding Exchange and leading design firms, this intensive research and design project explores the barriers and opportunities for reuse that exist in current design culture and public policy, and proposes expanding the reuse economy by re-envisioning architectural practice and the built environment.

Students enrolled in the Postgraduate Certificate in Public Interest Design program developed a multifaceted approach to this project, engaging hundreds of local and international architects, strategists, stakeholders, contractors and reuse experts. They conducted research and systems analysis, developed design concepts and tested applications to foster building material reuse within our region and beyond.

Just a few of the innovative projects and spinoffs from Wa$ted Market include:


A proposed online platform that forecasts the availability of reused materials resulting from commercial office space demolitions and renovations and organizes the information by industry parameters and needs of specifiers, so that specifying reused materials is as convenient and easy as specifying virgin materials.


A tactical urbanism and guerrilla marketing project that juxtaposes unique, reclaimed building materials against mass-produced consumer goods in popular shopping destinations. The projectconfrontscustomers’ perception of value in the retail environment and educates them about the reuse market.  Engage with the project on Twitter at  #ReuseCHI.


A proposed program that allows local material reuse organizations to partner with large retail home improvement stores, such as Home Depot, to supply reused products and building materials, capitalizing on the retailer’s existing infrastructure and loyal consumer base.


This installation at the heavily-attended 2016 NeoCon at the Merchandise Mart (the largest commercial interiors show in North America) is hard on the outside, soft on the inside. Its architecture is conceived using the analogy of a landfill, where a mass of waste is covered by a crust of turf. Built from materials harvested from completed construction projects and manufacturers’ surpluses, SOFTCORE reveals the robust qualities of wasted or hidden resources. Clad with OSB sheathing, the white monolithic receptacle is an 11’ wide x 11’ high x 7’ deep volume, equal to the amount of construction and demolition waste generated every minute in the United States. This solid mass was “cored” to create a place to retreat and recharge within the energetic NeoCon convention floor. Like a geological excavation, the interior space is lined with strata of carpet tile and carpet padding, materials that abate the sound while providing a comfortable environment. SOFTCORE shows that materials originally planned for obsolescence can be imbued with new value through design.

  Interior of SOFTCORE installation.

Exterior of the SOFTCORE installation at NeoCon 2016.