Category Archives: transport

Reindeer droppings

Decorate your tree with adaptively reused circuit boards, then buy presents

like this American Gulag bracelet from richterstudios inc,

or wineglasses from the Eden Project store

or a paper pot maker

or a personal solar panel

or a Rockbox open source mp3 player (photo by Andrew Mason).

or a MAKE warranty voider (go on, you know you want one) or any number of other geeky goodies from The Open Source Gift Guide or good gifts from the Good Gifts Catalogue.

Wrap them with last year’s reused wrapping paper (that always feels so pov but hey, Christmas is a stupid idea anyway), or check out some equally pov ideas from curbly

then set your fruit clock and if you’ve been a good primate all year (I have, I have!)

Santa* just might bring you the Christmas present you dream of……

* the existence of Santa is only a theory and is disputed by many children. However, it hardly needs saying that if Santa doesn’t bring the presents, who does? If there is no Santa why are pictures of him seen everywhere in stores and on cards? Furthermore, without Santa’s commandment to “Be good or you won’t get any presents” everyone would be bad and western civilisation would collapse. The “Christmas Conspiracy” theory, that all parents in the world secretly buy presents for their children on the same day every year, is so clearly paranoid and implausible that only anarchists, communists and other unbalanced secular extremists continue to defend it.


Everyone must have seen African tin toys made from reused tin cans, and the wire frame type that are often rather unsettling in their ghostliness.

The toy influence is obvious when you see this.

It’s the maquette for a much larger work that seems to have been made in a similar way from even bigger tin cans like oil drums. But it wasn’t and it’s connection to oil is far more sinister.

It’s a new memorial to Ken Saro-Wiwa, the writer and activist executed 11 years ago in Nigeria for his campaign against the environmental devastation of the Niger delta, and the oil-companies-sponsored campaign of genocide against the Ogoni people who live there. There is a great article and slide show about its construction by artist Sokari Douglas Camp in the Guardian.

It also reminded us of another vehicle,

one of the most impressive and unaccountably moving artworks we saw this year, by Paul Hopmeier at Defiance Gallery. Made from adaptively reused truck parts, it was based on an exhibit he saw in the Hermitage in St Petersburg,

a 5th century BC funerary vehicle, constructed from birch wood. Hopmeier’s open cage tumbril is as disturbing as the blind windows of the Saro-Wiwa bus, both vehicles of the dead.

But Ken Saro-Wiwa was hardly the first artist-activist executed on dubious charges. One of the greatest was also a master of adaptive reuse. We mean, of course, Joe Hill, the unionist and song writer executed in 1915. As an organiser for the Industrial Workers of the World (motto “sing and fight”) he wrote numerous parodies of popular songs and hymns – why should the devil have all the best tunes indeed! A typical example is “The preacher and the slave” (sung here by Shannon Murray), his version of the Salvation army dirge “In the sweet bye and bye” which gave us the now common term “pie in the sky”. The song’s condemnation of religious delusion and passivity in the face of injustice has not lost its bite in our age cursed by corporate religions.

His memorial is in the form of the great song “I dreamed I saw Joe Hill“, the first song to be sung in the Sydney Opera House for an audience of construction workers by an unaccompanied Paul Robeson. Robeson himself could almost be considered a martyr artist-activist, his achievements still slandered and his career destroyed because of his life-long and world-wide fight against racism.

Unfortunately Ken Saro-Wiwa is unlikely to to be the last martyr to corporate greed in the difficult century ahead.

Fly away home

We’ve talked before about reusing plane parts as furniture, and the LoTek library design using aircraft fuselages is a particular favourite of ours, even if it was never built. Well, there’s more than one way to lace a boot, and there’s more than one way to skin a Boeing 747.

This project by Syndesis Ltd for a house in the hills behind Malibu, California could become an adaptive reuse icon. It developed from an initial design with a floating curved roof. The symbolic wing became a genuine wing and the design evolved from there. They say:

As we analyzed the cost, it seemed to make more sense to acquire an entire airplane and to use as many of the components as possible, like the Native American Indians used every part of the buffalo. Therefore, the property is to consist of several structures all made with components and pieces of a Boeing 747-200 aircraft. As a structure and engineering achievement, the aircraft encloses a lot of space using the least amount of materials in a very resource efficient manner. The recycling of the 4.5 million parts of this “big aluminum can” is seen as an extreme example of sustainable reuse and appropriation. American consumers and industry throw away enough aluminum in a year to rebuild our entire airplane commercial fleet every three months.

Construction is now under way on the various buildings.

The wings and tail are being used to roof the main house,

parts of the fuselage are being used for other buildings including a guesthouse

and the nose is becoming an inspiring meditation pavilion where the windows will now function as skylights. And to prove it’s not just a castle in the air, here is a recent progress shot of them deconstructing their 747.

What we want to know is, how did they get planning permission?

Bicycle ute

Here’s another bicycle reuse. This time its Moz who, among other things, adapts old bicycles to become new load-bearing human powered vehicles like this one.

Often this kind of adaption is a prototype for building these designs from scratch, as with the development of the long bike into one less ute.

Pedal power

We were delighted to get an email from Ben Denham (thanks for the kind remarks) where he sent us some links to sites about bicycle powered machines. Mayapedal produce bikes, trailers etc, but also a range of bicycles adaptively reused to power machines

that perform a range of agricultural tasks like dehusking,

pumping water,

even washing clothes.

Our favourite was the bicycle blender, probably because we do like our banana smoothies and it will probably do margaritas as well. As Ben said

It gives you a whole new perspective on the stationary exercise bike. I always thought they were an absurd invention but this just goes to show that so long as the energy that you are generating is sensibly harnessed the stationary bike is actually one of the most beautifully efficient pieces of machinery you could imagine.

He also sent us a type of man bites dog story. We had been musing on the strange proliferation of chairs made out of bike parts,

his link was to a project to make a bike trailer out of aluminium chair parts. Eureka! If we could combine these into a pedal-powered banana chair so that you could lie down while exercising while also blending we would have the recumbent-exercise-bike-smoothie-and-margarita-maker (REBSAMM).

Now, we all laugh at recumbent bikes but they are actually far more efficient than the normal bike, and promoted by the great engineer Paul McCready in his role as president of the International Human Powered Vehicle Association. McCready is known as the father of human powered flight because he designed and built the first workable human powered plane, first solar powered plane, GM’s electric car and various other forms of efficient and comparatively environmentally sound hi-tech transport. He is also on the board of the Society of Amateur Scientists (Citizen Scientists, Unite!).

And in case you were wondering whatever happened to his pedal powered plane that once flew across the English Channel, well, it’s in the Smithsonian but its related technologies seem to have been captured by the US military who are probably adapting them to their own evil ends. It’s all too depressing, just pedal me another margarita.

Trains that don’t run on time

I had never heard of the amazing “norry”, the bamboo railway of Battambang province, Cambodia, until a few nights ago when it was on ABC’s Foreign Correspondent programme, so I googled it and discovered I was probably the last person in the world to hear about it. Check out this tourist blog, for instance, where I got some of these photos, or here or here (thank you all, whoever wherever you are).

The norry is an illegal rail system that runs on more or less unused old rail lines. The carriages are flat bamboo platforms on wheels made from tank track runners

and powered by a two stroke motor. It is easily assembled and disassembled so if you meet another norry coming in the opposite direction the one with the lightest load is pulled apart so the other can pass.

It’s a delightful bit of technology, an adaptive reuse of the old French colonial rail system that fell into disuse and disrepair after the Khmer Rouge banned its use. Throughout the developed world governments have destroyed public railway systems as a way of clandestinely assisting their patrons in the car, oil and road construction industries. The Khmer Rouge took this approach one step further by killing everyone involved with the colonial railway.

In the years since, with roads barely passable or riddled with landmines, the old rail lines have been taken over by inventive villagers who have developed what could be described as an open source railway – home made, self managed and safe.

I particularly like the joke first class section, consisting of two mats on the floor. If only the rest of the world’s inequality was that trivial.

There is one aspect of it all that really amuses me. In some ways it was the development of rail that led to that crucial early marker of modernity, our whole modern system of universal standard time. Is this the only post modern railway, the one railway in the world that doesn’t need to run on time?

Rubber fetish

It sure is ingenious but beautiful?…..we don’t think so. This is more furniture from bike bits. There seems to be as much bike furniture in the world as there are inner tube hand bags.

It’s hard to understand why bike bits inspire this much weird kitsch but at least it’s adaptive reuse. We have to admit that some of the things made by Bike Furniture Design are pretty good,

this for instance,

and this,

and this. Maybe bike riders like the other stuff. Chacun à son goût.

Wing it

The Mini desk reminded me that few years back I’d seen a DC3 wing desk in one of those house porn magazines so I went looking for it and here it is.

You can get a single wing

or if you are particularly obese you can get a double winger

and you can accessorize – a nose cone light for instance,

and every man needs a propellor or

a tail fin. I was sort of interested until I discovered they were around US$20k. But if you’d like one, get them here.

But this adaptively reused wing idea seems to then have been adaptively reused by Australian woodworker Ben Culley

whose Wing Desk does the whole thing in wood.

A lid opens when you punch your special code into a keypad, revealing a fitted interior work surface.

I’m afraid that both versions would only work for a clean-desk type of person and that’s not me. Where could I put my computer, how could I stop the mouse from running away?

I did have a clean desk type boss once, but I discovered in the end that he was a filing clerk at heart, spending most of his time filing things to keep his desk clean. He once told me that “your problem is you have too many ideas” which confirmed my suspicion that the clean desk is for the completely uncreative corporate clone who has a career but doesn’t have a life. Perhaps the ultimate desk and chair for that sort of person are these, made from adaptively reused pencils

by German artist Kerstin Schulz for Faber Castell’s one hundredth anniversary exhibition.

Although I’ve owned many antique desks and tables I think I’m a junk desk sort of person as well as an untidy desk person.

I’ve got lots of mismatched antique legs and for ages I have been going to make myself a desk in the style of this bench, but it will be a desk of many, many legs so I can use up the whole lot of them. One of these days.

Adaptive irony

I look at that image and I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. We work as heritage consultants and the destruction of a heritage building in that way is heart breaking, although it interestingly demonstrates that adaptive reuse can be a more complex issue than it appears at first.

On the other hand I think the result is also beautiful in its own way, an aesthetic for a post apocalyptic future. Or maybe it’s just because all my life I’ve loved ruins and urban exploration. The building is the Michigan Theatre in Detroit built in the 1930s (irony of ironies) on the site of Henry Ford’s original workshop where he built his first automobile in 1892.

His second factory is now a museum.

And the third Ford factory where the Model T was churned out at the rate of 1000 a day is still standing and used as a warehouse although it is now squeezed up behind a typically awful mall.

Well he did say history is bunk… except what he really said was “History is more or less bunk.” He made the statement in a 1916 interview with the Chicago Tribune but that comment has since been adapted for a more absolutist age with a shorter attention span.

Check out detroityes and detroitblog for more great Detroit ruins.