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3- Reuse of objects 

from my experience

Figure 18: where can you find waste materials in Peckham?

1. Problem solving for the street cats' shed houses


It seems fair to say that designers ‘have the ability to substantiate ideas and turn them into products’ (Brandes et al. 2009: 178), by observing, listening and learning from the researched people with whom they collaborate or intend to satisfy, which, in turn, should be seen as ‘full-fledged researchers in their own right’ (Callon et al. 2009: 99), able to identify, formalise and resolve problems single-handedly. Further, when Anne and Mary asked me to move the cats’ houses against the wall because they were heavy, and to cut half of a useless rabbit box to create a clean dining area, our relationship started to evolve.

From there, I could take challenging initiatives that would not be out of place, such as transforming a speaker box into a steady and comfortable shed house, following the ad-hocist thinking by keeping the primary form of the found object, and to design a waterproof house made of wooden pallets and foam polystyrene found on the streets of Peckham, following a DIY practice by planning every manufacturing step. Thus, both contributions influenced differently the making process, either improvised or planned. In the first case, when the speaker box suddenly appeared in a corner, I had to think quickly whether it could be useful or not for the cats, whilst in the second case, as the intentional idea to make the house came before, the necessity to find the right materials available for the assemblage took longer, given that dimensions, quality status and weight were matters to be seriously considered.

Figure 19: set of images showing the transformation of the dining area and the speaker box

as well as the construction process of the second house.

Once a problem is identified, it seems easier to be encouraged to see beyond waste and find possible ways of using almost anything. As the process of consumption ‘fulfils a wide range of social and personal aims and serves to articulate who we are or who we would like to be’ (Oudshoorn and Pinch 2003: 13), people who choose and up-cycle waste can also perform their own identity and ideas through the materials they re-appropriate, the strategy they employ for the making process as well as the final structure and appearance of their final objects. New uses might also come up from any sort of reflection, as when I had associated the speaker box’s form and function to an ideal house for cats, and two guys said ‘Hey man, now you could use it to put beers inside!’ 


A place can also undergo new uses, given that the green area was transformed into a workspace where to bring my toolkit and to make any necessary change when I could not do it at my place. Finally, observing how users actually use the shelters might teach us how to improve them, as when the cats spontaneously slept inside, rested on their roofs and ate in the dining areas as expected, or when they used the foam polystyrene to scratch their claws, bringing then an unpredictable application to be learned from.

Once the cats seemed to be satisfied, I decided to focus more energy on helping Anne and Mary. Since non-official feeders were stealing the cats’ food that was stored in an old polystyrene box, I worked the best I could to find a solution by associating a chair with a wooden container and adding a security lock in order to prevent these pitiful individuals from robbing the ladies. Thus, as the chair was elevating the container, covered with foam polystyrene to avoid the consequences of rainy days, Anne was especially grateful to have the food storage at her height given that she was now able to reach and use it from her wheelchair. 

Figure 20: set of images showing the construction process of the food storage.

Further, the second request of the ladies to improve their everyday practice was to replace two dirty dining areas installed in the car park. The first one was easy to change because I just had to reuse a solid plastic box. The second one, however, needed to fulfil dimensional requirements to put the three usual dishes for the cats. Convinced that a plastic pallet structure attached with cable ties would work properly due to the rugged properties of the whole, I completely forgot whether it was respecting or not the ladies’ expectations. Unstable and impractical, the structure was not large enough and was unsafe for the animals, forcing Anne to remove it on that same day arguing that she was ‘more council than the council’.


In search of a solution to my recklessness, I instantly found a wooden drawer to which I made few adjustments and covered with a tarpaulin, being more appropriate for the place. After mutual apology, this last experience reminded me how socio-technical actors might have different assessments of the precautions and risks, increasing the value acquired of collaborative research.

Figure 21: the new box was larger and stronger than the former one.

Figure 22: set of images showing different phases in the construction process of the second dining area.

2. Problem finding for the creative front garden


Whilst the first case study sought to exercise discretion, the second one aimed to call people’s attention. Thus, the way the creative front garden was conceived, by the reuse of waste materials, could serve as an example to open up conversations, letting people imagine and depict ‘a more tangible future or compelling alternative present’ (Malpass 2017: 102) on how to create new experiences reflecting with and through and beyond objects found in Peckham. According to Dunne and Raby (2013: 9), design’s role is also in ‘facilitating alternative visions rather than defining them’, by posing questions, encouraging thoughts, provoking actions and debates closer to the everyday life, as well as raising awareness about ‘issues that are not already well known’ (ibid: 43). In other words, it is a call for a deepening of critical reflections on waste, taking Johanna’s front garden as a point of departure to create a playful and educational scenario that would publicly involve other participants than the researcher and the initial researched person (Seymour 2005).

Therefore, eight participants living between New Cross and Peckham with different social, cultural and professional backgrounds, were invited to take part in an exercise in which they had to imagine how their own front garden would look, by entailing actions from re-used materials. In these individual encounters of roughly thirty minutes, each participant had to reflect on a proposal that would seek to involve their neighbours, as Johanna has been doing in these past three years. Thus, they started choosing few photographs of waste materials that I took myself during my walks in Peckham, to then produce their ideas, specifying the grounds of their choice and drawing the appearance of their idealised front garden on individual devices, previously made from reused cardboard. As ethnographer, I accompanied my participants in their intimate process of work and I insisted on the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of their proposals. As designer, I challenged them on their project’s feasibility. The outcomes unveiled the authors’ identity, their cultural and personal influences, their aesthetic preferences or educational purposes. 

Figure 23: set of images showing participants working on different proposals.

Further, one may observe whether the elements reused are functional, whether they are taking care of nature, of the neighbours or of their owners. As Johanna’s front garden has enabled these diverse reactions and interpretations, I attached them all together to create a drawing folder that was finally given to her, as a visual assemblage of possible worlds and identities. She was moved by this ‘inspiring gift’, which sought to motivate her to produce further actions and to continue this shared revolution of consciousness from her creative front garden.

Figure 24:  the joining of the eight proposals has created a drawing folder.

Figure 25:  Johanna’s new actions.

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