From waste to furniture

Such a beautiful project, and with unusual partners. The US Forestry Service, whose mission is conservation, worked with social enterprise Humanim and furniture retailer Room & Board to put together a process of deconstruction of empty houses, rather than demolition, addressing a grave problem in Baltimore.

Baltimore is suffering from dereliction on a huge scale; 17,000 houses in the city are confirmed vacant, and the total number is thought to reach over 30,000. Where others just saw blight and decay, social services enterprise Humanim saw an opportunity to address many of Baltimore’s problems with a single, integrated and holistic solution. […]

This method is more labour intensive than standard demolition, but also has a far greater return on investment economically, socially and environmentally. The project’s impact is threefold: “reclaimed wood, reclaimed lives, reclaimed neighbourhoods.

Such deconstruction, instead of simple demolition, employs 6-8 times more people, the program focuses on people with barriers to employment, and the reclaimed wood (which accounts for “more than 10% of annual waste material in the US.”) is then purchased at market prices to be used in the making of furniture.

This creates a closed-loop system where old wood is diverted from waste streams, creating something new and beautiful, whilst reducing the need for raw materials.

Even better for the surrounding community, once the derelict buildings have been stripped of wood and then demolished, the Parks and People Foundation helps them envision what they want to put in the buildings’ place.

The abandoned buildings are transformed into green spots for the community, perhaps a park, an amphitheatre, a flower garden or a farmers market. An added benefit of deconstruction is that it costs far less to create a park or other infrastructure on one of these blocks compared to a demolished block.

And lets repeat that this is done in collaboration with the US Forestry Service, which makes it such an excellent example of how organizations need to re-invent themselves and think of innovative solutions. Reclaiming wood saves some trees, fitting their mission, and they do it in a completely unexpected setting, helping out these urban communities in the process.

Cabinets made from yellow pine salvaged from Baltimore row homes. Photo — Room & Board

Cabinets made from yellow pine salvaged from Baltimore row homes. Photo — Room & Board