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Macarena Torres Puga turns construction waste into earthen planters

The “Waste Epiphany” project upcycles two of the most abundant waste materials used in the building industry: brick and concrete.

They might be manmade but Chilean designer Macarena Torres Puga has found a way to make industrial materials appear natural. It’s something about the layered aesthetic reminiscent of rammed-earth, which Puga achieves by compacting a mixture of crushed brick and concrete into a custom-designed, transparent mould.

Exhibited as part of Dutch Design Week 2021, the project started with a well-defined mission: to find a way of upcycling waste materials in the building industry: “Currently, the construction and demolition industry is the largest waste producer in the Netherlands, making it one of the most contaminating globally,” Torres Puga explains. “However, within every building torn down, there is a story, a memory, a moment impregnated into its walls through time.”

Best of Dutch Design Week - Macarena Torres

A Waste Epiphany seeks to reduce these negative environmental impacts by repurposing the materials to create unique designs. They include vases, planters and a series of small tables with glass tops.

“Each product is made of a mix between bricks and concrete from building demolition sites,”

These materials are selected, crushed one by one and then sorted into several aggregate sizes and different colors,” says Torres Puga. “The sizes each have their own function within the mix, providing rigidity, mass, finishing touch and color.” 

Zooming in on specific industries to address waste management is a challenging assignment with innovative results, don’t miss T-Style: DEWA DEWI (DEsign from Waste of Agriculture and Industry) crafts designs from leftover materials.

Waste Epiphany - process
The materials are selected, crushed one by one and then sorted based on colour and size – © Macarena Torres Puga

The most challenging and time-consuming part of the process is the processing of the waste, which at the moment Torres Puga does entirely by hand. “A new automated process is being developed to gain efficiency and productivity. I have also designed a flexible mould that can transform the piece into new forms and shapes with ease.”

Once the colors and sizes are divided, they are poured into the mould and rammed layer by layer. Every layer is premeditated as an entire composition before executed, made possible by the transparency of the mould, which grants the chance to alter the initial outcome into the desired result.

Each of these mixes is made of different types of bricks which provide a diverse effect throughout the totality of the design,” says Torres Puga. “It’s a sustainable and holistic approach in which these discarded materials are given a second life and new purpose.”

Discarded waste material that is given a second life to support a new one is a poetic contrast, check out Spire Planter stackable planter is made from 100% recycled waste material.

Each piece is a result of a different mix of the waste materials, making every one of them unique and distinct from the others – © Macarena Torres Puga
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