Waste House

Grand Parade Campus, University of Brighton

Client: University of Brighton, Brighton and Hove City College

Build Cost: £140K + product donations + volunteer labour

Contractor: Mears Group and their apprentices in collaboration with Brighton and Hove City College students

BBM Responsibilities:  Project Architect, material searches and research and  contract administrator


The brief for this project was to design and construct a permanent academic building that was also an open studio for use by local community groups, businesses, schools & colleges. The ambition was also to construct the building using material discarded by others and crucially to do this including students and other young people in the design and build process; to use these processes as a ‘live’ pedagogic tool.

The Brighton Waste House as it became known was opened in June 2014 and continues to be a ‘live’ on-going research project and permanent new design workshop (it is not a dwelling) focused on enabling open discussion and understanding of sustainable development. It is situated on campus at The University of Brighton’s College for Arts & Humanities at Grand Parade. Designed by Senior Lecturer & Architect Duncan Baker-Brown, together with undergraduate architecture & interior architecture students, this project was built by apprentices from The Mears Group, students from City College Brighton & Hove and The Faculty of Arts as well as volunteers. In all over 350 students helped with the project.

The Brighton Waste House is the first permanent ‘carbon negative’ public building in Europe to be constructed from approximately 90% waste, surplus material & discarded plastic gathered from the construction and other industries, as well as our homes. It has Full Planning & Building Regulations Approvals. It tries to prove “that there is no such thing as waste, just stuff in the wrong place!” The project continues a line of research by BBM considering truly sustainable sources of materials and construction systems, or to be more precise truly ‘circular metabolisms’ that will one day help create a ‘Circular Economy’. Baker-Brown’s experience on this project has enabled him to write a book ‘The Re-Use Atlas: A designers guide towards a Circular Economy’.

About 65% of the waste material utilised in this building is from the notoriously wasteful construction industry (around 20% of construction material ends up in landfill-WRAP). However the idea was developed further with Cat Fletcher founder of FREEGLE UK. Cat suggested the we draw attention to the huge environmental consequences of throwing away everyday consumable domestic objects, as well as including other industrial waste streams in the project. Therefore the Waste House also ‘locks’ other sources of waste material, often utilising it as low to medium grade insulation.

In the meantime we are currently testing the performance of the unusual fabric of the Waste House. For example The Faculty of Science & Engineering embedded sensors in the external walls to monitor their performance. We are also ‘locking’ toxic plastic waste to draw attention to the fact that most plastics end up in our ocean GYRE’S. Our ambition is to create a lively debate within and beyond the world of architecture & design about the huge potentials within what is broadly called ‘The Circular Economy’, and by default to encourage creative thought while highlighting that many positive things are actually happening in UK and beyond; people are already busy trying to sort out these problems, and the Waste House is able to provide inspiration for students, professions and community groups who are interested in contributing to this knowledge exchange.

One of the main aims of the project was to prove “that there is no such thing and waste, just stuff in the wrong place”. It is also an exercise in truly open accessible collaborative design and construction. This innovative low energy building was constructed completely by students & volunteers as young as 15 years old. Most were around 17 years old.

In addition during the 12 month construction period the Waste House site was visited by more than 750 primary and secondary school pupils, many of which brought their old tooth brushes to help fill the wall cavities. Every pupil attended a presentation about the themes and issues relating to the project (discussed above).

Now an open design research studio, run in partnership with our colleagues delivering the Sustainable Design MA on campus who us it as their teaching studio for two days a week, the Brighton Waste House is be available to schools, colleges and community groups for ‘green’ themed events and any interested parties can join in with sustainable design workshops and events curated by designers, artists, makers, builders, scientists writers-in-residence, whoever is interested.

For further information check out the Waste House website: http://arts.brighton.ac.uk/business-and-community/wastehouse/learn-about-the-waste-house

Research/ Teaching, Special projects and exhibitions