Scrap metal homes




‘One man’s rubbish is another man’s gold’ and Dan Phillips has proven that age old truism through his construction business Phoenix Commotion. A trained architect from Huntsville, Texas, Mr. Phillips helps people build their own affordable dream homes with recycled materials that most people would consider useless. Up until now, he has helped construct 14 houses, each of which have welcomed low-income, first-time buyers to the world of home ownership.

From this point of view I want to dig into the possibilities for architects & construction to use scrap materials to build a hom. What are the possible negative points, and what are the perks?

For this research I have interviewed a Dutch architect, who uses industrial waste to create buildings which fit in the environment, plus, they look stunning!

Research question 

Would it be possible to make (for instance) a normality to use scrap material & junkyard material to build homes?

Research & references


My research actually started duet o my interest in the beauty of homes and buildings made of thrown away materials. So it started that I found more than a few different examples, which I could all explain and show to you, but I wont.

This is because in these homes I missed something important.

If my main question is to normalise the use of scrap materials, there should be knowledge and experience behind the building.

And so I came across an architect named Dan Phillips.

In the talkshow, TEDtalks, Dan Phillips talks about all these beauties and explains us why it would be hard, for our “made” society to accept something like the homes and buildings made of these materials.

In his show he also talks about the reason of this two-sided discussion, and he blames ar apollonian & dionysian personality traits. Which actually brings us back to Nietzsche.

According to his “Birth of Tragedy” he uses the two terms to separate the two opposing forces in Greek culture. Apollonian hereby means someone who is perfectionist, can’t stand imperfection and uses every measure and guideline to make it perfect. For a dionysian is the opposite and makes use of coincidence, free minded creativity and isn’t bothered by imperfection.

For the answer to my question though, I have to see what the economical, social and environmental issues are. This in order to solve these problems, or make them less likely to occur.

In the diagram on the right I tried to make a visualisation for how is work impacts three main groups.

This I explain as followed.

People:Providing with cheap homes for smaller incomes.

Profit: Is it that hard? He spents maybe 500,- to build a nice looking and most off all unique home.

Planet: Reusing woods, scrap metals, and fleemarket objects for a lesser pollution and making a new device or purpose for them.

As I want to show you which is my main point of focus here, the diagram shows the percentage of which group has the most impact.

This leaves me with a problem: How can we solve the social and economical problems, if we want to broaden the audience for this type of buildings?

In the next interview I also ask these questions to Cesare Peeren from Superuse Studios.

Schermafbeelding 2015-01-28 om 21.16.30


With Césare Peeren



When you started using waste material, did you succeed finishing a building in the first go?


No, because we didn’t think of the lack of “usable” material. It may sound funny, but you still have to look at the qualities of waste. This made our first attempts harder than we thought it would.


Do you know the work of Dan Phillips?




(I showed him some of his work, told him who he is and what he does.)


This is amazing, it’s a shame we didn’t know him before, he could be a huge inspiration to us.


Your application, HarvestMap, is a waste-locating application. Do you think this could be usefull to other companies or people?

I do think that more people could make use of this app. The reason for this is that it can help companies to maybe be more aware of their output. But it can also be a good source of information. For people, they could make use of broken down machines and patch them up, if they don’t have the money to buy a new washing machine for instance. People throw away a lot of good or still working stuff. But after all I think it won’t be as usefull as it is to us, as architects.




From a architectural perspective, you have to think about a concept, does this also apply to you?


Yes and No, we have the problem of material, which may or may not be linked to a concept at all. Because we work the other way around. We start at choosing our materials, after that, we’ll make plans and figure out a good structure and concept.

This makes it a lot harder to make sure something comes out as we planned, or i fit even works out with the materials we chose.



I hope to see more of your work soon,

Thank you for the insight!




I think after the research I’ve done, and the talks I’ve had, I can anwer my main question:


Would it be possible to make (for instance) a normality to use scrap material & junkyard material to build homes?


Yes, this would be possible.

My answer to the question is based on the three focussing points:

Social, it has a nice way of being variable to taste and personality. I used to think that there’d always be a stopping point because of the sloppy looking homes. But after taking a look at the buildings from Superuse, I changed this opinion quickly, as they show it can be done.

Economical, it would be easy-done. The only problem you could run into in realising this is the real-estate market. As these houses are pretty cheap, it would make it harder to compete and there’ll be made laws and strict requirements for building with junkyard materials.

Environmental, was already a huge progression, as we produce a lot of waste each year, it will be a good use of waste and scraps. Environmentally seen, this could lead to a new evolution in home-building. 




HarvestMaps by 2012architecten

Dan Phillips: creative houses from reclaimed stuff

Ruth Benedict: apollonian and Dionysian

Victor Barnauw, 1949


Philosophy study guides: Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900): The Birth of Tragedy



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