Tastes and styles change with the decades (and sometimes with just the seasons), and what is considered fashionable now may seem hopelessly dated in just a few years. This applies not only to clothing and interior design, but to architecture and building materials as well. As technologies advance and the 'green' movement continues, new building materials are constantly coming onto the market, and being incorporated by architects and contractors into both new construction and renovation projects alike. Once upon a time in Gilded Age New York, Mrs. Astor decreed that green was the color of the season. Green is back in style again.
One trend that looks like it’s here to stay for the duration is the use of recycled, repurposed, or reused materials. The idea that a counter-top, say, has to be brand-spanking new is outmoded. Repurposing can be done with almost anything—including all the news that’s fit to print.
“For most of my jobs, I take insulation from other buildings and reuse it,” says Gennaro Brooks-Church, director of Brooklyn-based green building firm Eco Brooklyn Inc. “If I’m not able to do that, one of the products I like is cellulose. In this arena, that means the New York Times, shredded up, with a little bit of fireproofing added to it. It’s great insulation, and it’s a wonderful low embodied energy product.”
Resourceful repurposing works not only with newsprint, but also with harder materials as well. “I also reuse bricks and cobblestones,” Brooks-Church says. “The cobblestones of New York City were brought over from England as ballast in sailing ships. And they would throw them out here before returning home with the bounty of the Americas, so that’s why we have all these cobblestones here in New York. I use them for gardening and other things.”
Then there are the joists—the hardwood beams used to support the floors and ceilings of buildings. “We refer to the salvaged joists from New York buildings as ‘The Gotham Forest,’” Brooks-Church says. “There are billions of square feet of old growth wood that just doesn’t exist in nature anymore, and it’s been saved inside these buildings for over a hundred years. It’s just great stuff, and I make gorgeous counter-tops out of it, floors, furniture, shelving… just phenomenally beautiful, priceless stuff.” If it’s priceless, it must be expensive, right? Not necessarily, says Brooks-Church; “I get it out of Dumpsters.”