Pallet Garage is very likely the first building in the United States to be constructed almost entirely of timber pallets and granted a building permit (STR11-02978, City of Indianapolis, Department of Code Enforcement, August 26, 2011).
Pallets are omnipresent. The submitting architects have found pallets not only in the small architectures of informal settlements in Buenos Aires, Chihuahua, Istanbul, and Panama City, but in the blogs of self-builders throughout North America and Europe. The U.S. Forest Service estimates that nearly two billion pallets are in circulation in the United States alone and that two hundred million of those are landfilled every year, often after just one use. Urban pioneers in Detroit, Gary, East St. Louis, Camden and other falling Rust Belt cities reclaim pallets and shape composting frames, gardening hot boxes, and chicken coops. Farmers use pallets to build sheds, fences, and more. And architects–including Onix, ManosArchitects, I-Beam Design, Project Iceberg, Köbberling and Kaltwasser, among them–contribute temporary pavilions and museum installations.
But none of these builders have negotiated the gap between informal and formal economies with a permanent pallet building authorized by a building permit.
Stepping back … Pallet Garage is part of the larger “Cabin(s) in the Woods”–the renovation of a small limestone house and the construction of a second small timber frame house, these “cabins” to be connected by a 25’ all-glass corridor, all on a small plateau of a heavily wooded and ravined 2.5-acre site seventy blocks north of downtown Indianapolis. The garage anchors the project’s southern edge, shapes the pedestrian sequence from off-site into the house, and illuminates the entry courtyard. Among the constraints accepted: to use only industry standard 40” x 48” wood pallets; to conceive of a kit of parts composed of fully, partially, and not assembled pallets; to know pallet production processes and producers; and to accept that the details and constructions must be possible on the “Cabin(s)” site AND on sites in neighborhoods worldwide where only hand tools are available and heavy lifting is done not by industrialized machine but by strong backs. We are not demanding nor designing a “new” pallet to meet our needs; rather, we are utilizing, fully, the potential of the most conventional pallet to fulfill concerns for both quality of construction and quality of spatial experience by those of severely limited means.
Under construction now (the slab was poured on November 12, 2011), working drawings of Pallet Garage (including a Structural sheet for the 3D space truss) were posted online on August 1, 2011 for free use by anyone worldwide.
Going forward … It is the authors’ hope that such articulation, construction, and open sourcing of the design will enable self-builders worldwide, even those without internet access but who are in contact with local NGOs and non-profits, to benefit from this small demonstration project.
In this, Pallet Garage is an argument on behalf of the intelligence of the designers and builders of the slum, the deserted neighborhood, and the farmer AND evidences the knowledge that architects and engineers can bring to such found material systems AS IT shares such minimal, but measurable and meaningful, improvement with current building and urban practitioners around the world, the U.S., and our home city.
Pallet Garage stands as the most developed of a number of on-going investigations into the potential of material systems found curbside—couches, mattresses, lawn chairs, shopping carts—in Mumbai, in Chicago, and our hometown of Indianapolis.
Among the questions that will continue to guide these investigations:
What legitimizes a found material system? What makes it real, official, and allowed?
How does a designer evidence respect for local building practices, local materials, and local workers? What do locals know that others do not? What does it mean to be local?
What are the limits of what it means to be a professional? An architect? An architectural educator? And … Who is the teacher? Who is the student?
more images of this project and many others by Wes Janz, One Small Project Flickr
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