The architectural association “Faire avec” uses unused building materials to improve housing. It is an environmentally-friendly approach based on materials reuse that places residents at the heart of the project. The non-profit was recently distinguished with the innovation award for general interest from the Cognacq-Jay Foundation. We interviewed Clothilde Buisson, one of the three architects at Faire Avec.

  We recover materials so that they don’t become waste, which is officially defined as “any object intended for disposal”.

Why did you create the “Faire Avec” association?

We’re a young non-profit created around the profiles of 3 different architects: Gwenaëlle Rivière, the co-founder of the association, creates architecture in constant dialogue with people; Clara Piolatto, who is completing a PhD in architecture, explores the place of architecture in homeless shelters and me, Clothilde Buisson. My interest lies in materials reuse.

Two observations brought us together. In 2017, according to the Abbé Pierre Foundation, 2,090,000 people in France lacked adequate housing, 1,123,000 co-owners were in financial difficulty and 3,558,000 people were cold due to fuel poverty. Secondly, 40 million tonnes of waste is generated in the building and construction sector (excluding public works). As architects, it’s our job to be influencers when it comes to supply and demand. We can act as an intermediary between projects where construction work is needed and projects where quality materials are discarded, and professionalise this approach.

We believe that a sector without prospects is a sector with no future. Over the past several years, the materials reuse market has become increasingly organised and has matured thanks to the work of numerous professional trailblazers. For example, social landlords such as Paris Habitat are finally becoming drivers in the area.

How does your materials reuse initiative work?

We follow European guidelines that stipulate that by 2020, 70% of waste from the building and construction sector should be recycled. We focus on ways of reducing this waste. There are several steps to achieve this: reuse, which means reusing a material for its initially intended purpose, without any major transformation, and waste prevention. We recover materials so that they don’t become waste, which is officially defined as “any object intended for disposal”.

There are 2 types of reuse materials, those that are new and those that come from demolition.
“Faire Avec” focuses specifically on recovering new materials, which can take place:

  • Before construction: all surplus from suppliers, whether from major retailers or specialised suppliers.
  • During construction: any ordering errors or operating changes during work. For example, we received an ad to retrieve 600 m2 of 14 cm thick insulation.
  • After construction: all materials unused or ordered in surplus. For one project with 200 lamp posts, we’re working on recovering 6 that we’re going to give to a cultural association to light a museum courtyard.

 It’s important to us to involve residents and put them back at the heart of the design process.

 

The materials reuse market is booming with startups like Cycle Up, which resells these materials for reuse. Aren’t you afraid of competition?

No way! We plan to work with them. We want to use all these organised initiatives to create a tool that can be used by everyone in the construction sector. For future construction projects, the goal would be to work with these various platforms to mutually capitalise on their experience and our practices. For it to work, we could receive donations directly from suppliers or purchase materials at a low cost from sites like Cycle Up.
We don’t directly recover materials because we don’t have the storage space. We rely on a group of professionals. Our two main obstacles are materials storage and logistics, finding people to pick up materials.
That’s why we don’t think in terms of competition but support for the approach. There are still a lot of issues that need solutions and we collectively need a lot of feedback to move forward together.

We work actively through architectural “permanencies” that provide free architectural advice, used widely by architecture collectives.” We go to sites to make observations and conduct a diagnostic assessment of the building and listen to people and their uses.

 

How did you come up with the idea of “building with” and putting residents at the heart of housing?

We are currently working on the renovation of a homeless shelter for Emmaüs. We’re finishing the feasibility study that we’re going to present to the 54 residents.
The shelter isn’t at all substandard. The goal is to humanise the space to give people back a bit of individuality and privacy. It’s all a question of use and space. As it is, the shelter has mostly double rooms and people are unable to choose who they room with, which can be problematic. The common areas aren’t great from an architectural standpoint.

The goal of the renovation falls in line with the policy of the French government’s five-year “Housing First” programme, promoting permanent rather than temporary housing solutions. We want to provide these people with stability and assistance.
It’s important to us to involve residents and put them back at the heart of the design process. We worked actively through architectural “permanencies” that provide free architectural advice, used widely by architecture collectives.” We went to the shelter to make observations and conduct a diagnostic assessment of the building and listen to people and their uses. First we built a model with the residents in order to understand the space using architectural tools.

For 3 months, we also provided workshops with a photographer (to create a photomontage on utopia and the dream space) and a choreographer to approach the building differently. The bodily expression workshop drew out other discussions, like people having to just set up their space despite the fact that there is always something wrong – the room is too small or they have to move everything, etc.

Now it’s up to us to work and find solutions by thinking outside the box (laughs).

As the architects for this type of project, we work on the flexibility of the building, with the idea that if the housing sector changes, there won’t need to be as many renovations in a few years since the building will already be ready to become an urban residential building.
In the future, besides homeless shelters, we’d like to focus on precarious housing, but it’s all about scales and we’re currently working with other associations on funding options.