What is Upcycled Urbanism?

Have you ever wished you could redesign and rebuild part of Vancouver's public realm?

Architecture and design is an inescapable part of the Vancouver experience, yet there are few chances for people to influence these designs outside of academic settings, City Hall, or architectural offices. Sometimes it can feel like the city and its spaces are created by unseen hands in some faraway design star chamber. And let’s face it: the designs we live with on Vancouver’s streets are not always as creative and risky as they could be.

What if we could invite everyone to re-imagine aspects of urban design and then actually empower them to build prototypes of their ideas? This is the question that gave birth to Upcycled Urbanism: a design+build project for everyone.

What is Upcycled Urbanism?

Upcycled Urbanism is a participatory project that invites students, artists, designers, makers, and anyone with a even a smidgen of creativity to reimagine and rebuild parts of Vancouver’s public realm.

Working together, teams of participants will design and build prototypes using modular blocks of expanded polystyrene containing material salvaged from the construction of the Port Mann Bridge.

Raw material, ready for recycling into public design in the yard at Mansonville Plastics

In the yard at Mansonville Plastics: raw material, ready for recycling into public design.

First, students from the UBC School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture created building block prototypes. Then, at a series of workshops in March 2013, teams will brainstorm, sketch, and model how to use these blocks for new public design ideas with the help of design experts from our partner organizations. Everyone is welcome. Finally, teams will come together again to actually build their creations at an outdoor design/build spectacle in July. The wider community will be invited to help, critique, encourage the builders, and occupy their creations. Think of it as a combination workshop/street celebration/public art unveiling!

Materials will then be re-recycled for industrial use.

Upcycled Urbanism is a partnership between Museum of Vancouver, the School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture (SALA) at the University of British Columbia, the Vancouver Public Space Network, Maker Faire Vancouver, and Spacing Magazine, with generous additional support from SALA, Mansonville Plastics and the Vancouver Foundation.

Why are we doing it?

By inviting people to re-imagine public art and street amenities, we hope that Upcycled Urbanism will provoke conversations about public realms and design culture in Vancouver, foster collaboration and connection between people of diverse backgrounds and talents, and give participants a greater sense of ownership over the public places they share.

It will also viscerally explore issues of sustainability by removing polystyrene from the waste stream, empowering people to build with it in a large-scale public spectacle, and finally returning the material for further recycling.

Workshops bring people together for design and creation.

How did Upcycled get started?

Upcycled Urbanism began as an idea and grew into a collaborative community effort.

Back in the summer of 2012, we mentioned MOV’s participatory design aspirations to Erick Villagomez, editor of Spacing Vancouver, and he suggested the perfect medium to make this dream come true: expanded polystyrene, or EPS. This material, sometimes incorrectly mistaken for Styrofoam, is super-light and easy to cut into shapes.

Best of all, said Erick, we have a local, green source for it! Langley-based Mansonville Plastics actually diverts blocks of used EPS bound for the landfill and grinds the stuff down in order to produce entirely new, usable blocks. (In 2012, Mansonville supplied the EPS filling for the wondrous Pop Rocks installation at Robson Square.)

Mansonville generously offered to fabricate a mountain of blocks for the project. Then Spacing, Maker Faire Vancouver, the Vancouver Public Space Network, and UBC’s School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture (SALA) all came on board as partners.

 SALA’s Bill Pechet offered to put his design studio students to work creating EPS building block prototypes. Then, with a small grant from the Vancouver Foundation, we were off and running.

Who can get involved?

You! One of the project’s goals is to get design experts and students thinking and playing with people from other backgrounds. So whether you want to contribute to the design conversation, help build with the blocks, or just watch, you are welcome to join us during our program in the spring and summer of 2013.

We are limited only by our dreams! Image: Tavis Brown's photostream


March workshops @Museum of Vancouver:

Sunday, Mar 3:    Designing Together: a primer on how to give fun, inclusive design workshops

Sunday, Mar 10:  Building Public Hallucinations: a design journey with SALA and Spacing Vancouver

Sunday, Mar 17:  Block Talk: creating spaces that bring people together, with SALA and Vancouver Public Space Network

Sunday, Mar 24:  Shock and Surprise: public design juxtapositions, with SALA and Maker Faire Vancouver

Workshop Time: 2:00pm–4:00pm

July Design build event: watch this space for date/location!




Add new comment

Filtered HTML

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.