“Local” is a word that is broadly used to describe something particular about a place that makes it different from somewhere else. Across the globe, the “local-ness” of our cities is what makes them unique- in the way that people live, work, socialize, and especially in the way that they plan and construct cities and infrastructure. To someone living in a suburb, the way that they move from place to place might be through a car, while someone who lives in a dense metropolis might use a subway or bus system as part of their everyday lives.
When it comes to building materials, sustainability, and the overall way in which things are built, cities also have different definitions for that too. With increasing pressure to build sustainably, nearly 70% of the world’s population is projected to live in cities by 2050, and with buildings being responsible for nearly 30% of global carbon emissions, it’s important now more than ever that cities find ways to locally source environmentally friendly materials. Beyond the statistical aspect, the locality of a place plays an important role in the experiential and emotional aspects of a building. It’s a way to identify a space’s culture with the context it situates itself in, and a way to pay homage to the history, mission, or patrons of a place.
The type of vernacular that we see around the world also has significant influence from the natural resources that are available in various regions, as they allow for faster and cheaper construction. It’s largely one of the reasons why architecture in more rural areas has a more distinct style, whereas architecture in cities feels more uniform and imported, regardless of its respective context. But in cities, which tend to lack natural resources and the space to manufacture large-scale construction products, are finding creative ways for building products to become recycled as their means of defining a rather unconventional definition of “locality”.
A study conducted in 2011 found that in New York City alone, the construction industry generated more than 7 million tons of building waste each year. Paired with a high rate of development, architects and construction managers are finding ways to creatively reuse certain materials instead of sending them to the landfill. Some cities are implementing volunteer programs where people scour buildings slated for demolition, looking for items that could be given a second life. The result from a program like this in New York City has created a 75,000-pound collection of reusable materials and appliances. These items, including reclaimed lumber, cabinets, flooring, masonry, paint, furniture, and fabrics become available to the public at deeply discounted rates through multiple distribution centers.
While these efforts do little to bring local style or distinct cultural elements to urban centers, they do have a significant impact on the way that architects and contractors understand the way that materials can be revised to keep the small elements of buildings circulating among one another. It keeps a little bit of history, and does its part in helping contribute to a rising global sustainability crisis- and for some cities, that’s “local” enough.
This article is part of the ArchDaily Topic: Local Materials. Every month we explore a topic in-depth through articles, interviews, news, and projects. Learn more about our monthly topics. As always, at ArchDaily we welcome the contributions of our readers; if you want to submit an article or project, contact us.