Artisanal Recycling by Leger Wanaselja


View of the house from McGee Street

Cate Leger and Karl Wanaselja, the architects of the house shown above, describe it as “Resolutely Green.” Given the competitive  character  of the current informal ratings of green, what degree of excellence  does that phrase entail?

The best answer I found to that question was the description the architects  themselves provided on their web site, ( which follows:

The house at 2322 McGee Street in Berkeley,  California, is an 1140 square foot, 2-bedroom infill in the heart of one of the city’s oldest residential neighborhoods near the downtown core.  It is small on the outside and big on the inside with high ceilings, wide open spaces, and big windows and doors to the garden.  The unique curving taper of the building at the front and back serves several functions: it creates the optical illusion of reduced size from the street; it allows more light to enter the south windows; and it allows more light to slide past into the neighbor’s yard.  The house shares the site with a studio fashioned out of a used shipping container.

Over 100 salvaged car roofs cover the upper walls of this house.

The roofs were sawed out of grey cars left for parts in local junk yards.  The lower walls are clad in poplar bark, a waste product from the furniture industry of North Carolina.

The awnings, shown below, are fabricated from junked Dodge Caravan side windows. Once advertised as “America’s best selling minivan”, the Caravan is now a common item in junk yards.

Energy performance is 43% better than required by California’s Title 24 energy code.

The house is virtually passive solar with back up heat needed only intermittently during rain or heavy overcast periods in the winter.

The hotwater is solar with a back up tankless water heater.

The appliances are energy star or better.

The toilets are dual flush.

The yard is planted with drought tolerant or food producing plants, many of them native.

View from the back yard

There is no irrigation.

The house is plumbed for a future greywater system and the gutters are laid out for future rainwater collection.

In addition, a great deal of attention was placed on using resource efficient and low toxic materials.

All concrete contains 50% flyash cement and is colored with natural earth pigments and sealed with soybased binder from Soycrete and water based sealer from AFM.

All framing lumber and plywood is FSC certified.

All insulation is blown-in cellulose except under the concrete slab.

Cabinets are built with FSC certified plywood.  All interior doors have wheatboard cores.

All walls and ceilings are of unpainted plaster.

All the finish wood including trim, counters, upper floors and stairs,

fences, gates, wood siding and deck railings is salvaged wood

Wood floors are sealed with a plant resin floor finish from Bioshield.

Woodwork and exposed steel beams are finished with a natural linseed oil based coating from Bioshield.

The two views below show furniture made from recycled wood slabs.

View of the interior toward the front of the house

View toward the garden

The awnings above the second floor balcony, shown below, are fabricated from junked Dodge Caravan side windows. Once advertised as “America’s best selling minivan”, the Caravan is  now a common item in junk yards.

In his book, The Spell of the Sensuous, author David Abram traces a path to ecology through the more-than-human-world that we access through our senses. Although our human-made artifacts retain elements of a more-than-human-otherness, Abram observes that the otherness often resides in the materials from which the object is made. He cites Maurice Merleau-Ponty to illustrate this point:

“The tree trunk of the telephone poles, the clay of the bricks from which the building is fashioned, the smooth metal alloy of the car door we lean against—all these still carry, like our bodies, the textures and rhythms of a pattern we ourselves did not devise. . . . Too often, however, the dynamism is stifled within mass produced structures closed off from the rest of the earth, imprisons within technologies that plunder the living land. The superstraight lines and right angles of our office architecture, for

example, make our animal senses wither even as they support the abstract intellect; the wild, earth-born nature of the materials—woods, clays, metals, and stones that went into the buildings—are readily forgotten behind the abstract and calculable form.” {David Abram, The Spell pf the Sensuos, p. 64.}

“Genuine art,” Abram goes on to state, “is simply human creation that does not stifle the nonhuman element, but, allows whatever is Other in the materials to continue to live and to breathe. Genuine artistry, in this sense, does not impose a wholly external form upon some ostensibly inert matter, but rather allows the form to emerge from the participation and reciprocity between the artist and his materials, whether these materials be stones, or pigments, or spoken words.” {D. Abram, op cit, footnote 22 on p.278.}

These passages offer a suitable description of what “artisanal recycling” is and how it differs from the kind of recycling we are used to. The two projects by Leger Wanaselja Architects exemplify the means and the rewards of this approach to sustainable design.


5 Responses

  1. Thank you for commenting on this post! Having someone testify that a building they see on a regular basis continues to attract their attention
    affirms the importance of thoughtful design.


  2. Elizabeth Meyer says:

    I am a neighbor and pass by both of these buildings on an almost daily basis. And yet, there is much I had not noticed until reading your essays, Sally. Thank you for opening my eyes. I am especially a fan of the house (we call it the ship house). I covet their garden and bark siding. So interesting to know it is a waste product of furniture-making.

  3. I once put this project up for an an award by a Berkeley design advocate group and was told it was too weird. The recycling theme was even more appropriate when there was a recycling center across the street at the corner. My only problem is that there is never parking when I drive by and I can’t revel in the details on a regular basis. Sally has called out elements that I still had not noticed after several planned visits. Thanks for deepening my sense of how truly creative this building is.

  4. Dan Gregory says:

    I am a fan of their work — one of thier projects won a Western Home Award when I was at Sunset magazine. I think Artisanal Recycling is an apt term — another might be Road Style: The Remix!

  1. August 10, 2013

    […] Their work will change your point of view.  Berkeley architecture historian Sally Woodbridge has written about the couple and this house.  The couple’s website is stunning, and their description of […]

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