From trash to treasure through ‘upcycling’

150103 P!D

Project sees unwanted items transformed into new and usable products for the needy

At first, they met Maggie. Then they created Maddie, Mariah, Max and Mei Li.

These are names of stools, made from just old magazines and cable ties.

They were made by MacPherson residents and other members of the public who attended a workshop conducted by non-profit organisation Participate in Design (P!D) in April.

Said P!D co-founder Jan Lim, 27, a design consultant with an architecture firm: “We wanted to show how upcycling can be done. It’s something so simple. You can collect magazines at home and just do it.”

Unlike recycling, “upcycling” converts unwanted objects into usable ones without degrading the quality and composition of the waste material.

The workshop was part of P!D’s latest initiative – The Upcycle Project – where MacPherson residents saw how their trash could be redesigned to become another person’s treasure, even helping low-income families.

Over the past year, unwanted furniture was collected and converted into practical items for needy families in MacPherson.

Said P!D co-founder Mizah Rahman, 27, a research assistant at the Centre for Sustainable Asian Cities at the National University of Singapore (NUS): “We wanted residents to recognise their own capacity to contribute to their community, using the everyday objects they have.”

Ms Lim and Ms Mizah – both architecture graduates from NUS – set up P!D last year in the belief that “everyone has the right to shape their built environment”.

Ms Mizah said: “In a typical design process, you’re designing for the people (who use the object). But what we do is that we design together with them.”

She and Ms Lim did a master’s thesis project exploring the relationship between architecture and community participation, focusing on the MacPherson neighbourhood. After graduation, they continued to work with the residents on other design projects and started The Upcycle Project in January this year.

It was an “experiment” in community design, said Ms Lim. “We wanted to see how existing resources within the community could be leveraged upon, and used to better the same community.”

The duo roped in about 10 volunteers – including designers – and went on to collect about 20 unwanted objects from residents.

These were made into new furniture or items and given to five low-income families, with the designers working with residents in the design process.

One family received a clothes rack-cum-storage unit, painted in bright pink and blue. It was made from a bed frame, shoe rack and cabinet.

Ms Lim said: “The designers got the family to select the colours. The mum was painting, the kids were painting, so that was quite fun to watch.”

MacPherson Community Club constituency manager Yvonne Gao said: “The residents are fascinated that their old furniture could become something new, and also help others in their estate.

“For those who received the upcycled furniture, there is a greater sense of ownership and they feel that their voices are heard as they also get to participate in the design process.”

Added Ms Mizah: “It boils down to our role as designers. We have more value to society than just designing fancy houses and skyscrapers for those who can afford it.”

By Priscilla Goy

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