Craig Stott on Surplus Reappropriation

Image 01: A new office for Fareshare Food Distribution Charity, Leeds, UK. Credit: Project Office
Image 02: A new entrance for New Wortley Community Centre, Leeds, UK. Credit: Project Office.
Image 03: Mapping material manufacturers within 50km of Leeds, UK. Credit: Project Office.

Surplus Reappropriation is an experimental approach where the narrative of adaptive reuse takes incidental and accidental construction waste as a new design and procurement methodology. As the architect’s role diversifies ever further from just ‘pure architecture’ and adaptive reuse becomes mainstream practice, the term is a tacit methodology learned by Project Office to suggest an additional sub-category to current definitions. The intention is to induce a dialogue concerning the dichotomy of architecture and defect waste, in addition to that of architecture and preservation, of which Lanz & Pendlebury note “there is no common and shared agreement on what adaptive reuse precisely is and what it entails.”1

Surplus Reappropriation contributes to both the adaptive reuse discourse and the wider reflection on architecture’s role in mitigating the climate crisis. Construction waste goes beyond simple site offcuts and packaging; it also includes defects, prototypes and human error. These result in substantial volumes of incorrectly manufactured/sized/ordered units. Virtually all off-site elements are susceptible, from windows/doors/cladding, to structural components, to full MMC prefabricated modules. Much of this is useable, but sees landfill or the incinerator before installation due to current construction orthodoxy. The intention is for Surplus Reappropriation to become more widely re-used, helping instigate an architectural culture embracing circular economies through hybrid works. In so doing, a further tool is added to the architect’s arsenal for contemporary intervention.

The methodology includes sourcing and mapping local construction waste [Image 03]  to form a taxonomy, then learning how to design with that taxonomy. The results are hybrid works, constructed from obsolescent material that now exist beyond their original intended use, with an aesthetic derived directly from the physical trace of found redundant objects. The nucleus was an office space for a food distribution charity [Image 01] housed within an existing warehouse. With insufficient funds for a traditional design approach, the idea was struck upon to first source unwanted materials from an online auction site, then design solely from that palette. In a later project, a new entrance to an existing community centre [Image 02] was proposed by upcycling discarded windows and doors and housing them within an offcut plywood frame.

The two projects, beautiful in their uniqueness, simultaneously embody both pure architecture and a translation of the as found. In so doing, they demonstrate the importance of re-evaluating the hegemony of linear design and construction practices, to consider the value of as found buildings, structures and materials. Substantially more difficult than specifying off-the-shelf, yet ultimately far more rewarding, the knowledge and experience gathered through delivering these two projects has resulted in Surplus Reappropriation becoming the pedagogic underpinning for all Project Office’s architecture live projects, going forward. This will enable many schemes for non-profit organisations that would otherwise have insufficient funds to be realised, fulfilling Project Office’s mission to challenge societal inequalities through community empowerment.

  1. Francesca Lanz & John Pendlebury (2022) Adaptive reuse: a critical review,
    The Journal of Architecture, 27:2-3, 441-462 ↩︎

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