Dan Phillips: Creative houses from reclaimed stuff

Dan Phillips: Creative houses from reclaimed stuff


(Applause) Thank you very much. I have a few pictures, and I’ll talk a little bit
about how I’m able to do what I do. All these houses are built from between 70 and 80 percent
recycled material, stuff that was headed to the mulcher,
the landfill, the burn pile. It was all just gone. This is the first house I built. This double front door here
with the three-light transom, that was headed to the landfill. Have a little turret there. And then these buttons
on the corbels here — right there — those are hickory nuts. And these buttons there — those are chicken eggs. (Laughter) Of course, first you have breakfast, and then you fill the shell full
of Bondo and paint it and nail it up, and you have an architectural button
in just a fraction of the time. This is a look at the inside. You can see the three-light transom
there with the eyebrow windows. Certainly an architectural antique
headed to the landfill — even the lockset
is probably worth 200 dollars. Everything in the kitchen was salvaged. There’s a 1952 O’Keefe & Merritt stove, if you like to cook — cool stove. This is going up into the turret. I got that staircase for 20 dollars, including delivery to my lot. (Laughter) Then, looking up in the turret, you see there are bulges
and pokes and sags and so forth. Well, if that ruins your life, well, then, you shouldn’t live there. (Laughter) This is a laundry chute. And this right here is a shoe last — those are those cast-iron things
you see at antique shops. So I had one of those, so I made some low-tech gadgetry,
where you just stomp on the shoe last, and then the door flies open
and you throw your laundry down. And then if you’re smart enough,
it goes on a basket on top of the washer. If not, it goes into the toilet. (Laughter) This is a bathtub I made, made out of scrap two-by-four. Started with the rim, and then glued
and nailed it up into a flat, corbeled it up and flipped it over, then did the two profiles on this side. It’s a two-person tub. After all, it’s not just
a question of hygiene, but there’s a possibility
of recreation as well. (Laughter) Then, this faucet here
is just a piece of Osage orange. It looks a little phallic, but after all, it’s a bathroom. (Laughter) This is a house based on a Budweiser can. It doesn’t look like a can of beer, but the design take-offs
are absolutely unmistakable: the barley hops design
worked up into the eaves, then the dentil work comes directly
off the can’s red, white, blue and silver. Then, these corbels going
down underneath the eaves are that little design
that comes off the can. I just put a can on a copier
and kept enlarging it until I got the size I want. Then, on the can it says, “This is the famous Budweiser beer, we know of no other beer,
blah, blah, blah.” So we changed that and put, “This is the famous Budweiser house.
We don’t know of any other house …” and so forth and so on. This is a deadbolt. It’s a fence from a 1930s shaper,
which is a very angry woodworking machine. And they gave me the fence,
but they didn’t give me the shaper, so we made a deadbolt out of it. That’ll keep bull elephants
out, I promise. (Laughter) And sure enough, we’ve had
no problems with bull elephants. (Laughter) The shower is intended
to simulate a glass of beer. We’ve got bubbles going up there,
then suds at the top with lumpy tiles. Where do you get lumpy tiles?
Well, of course, you don’t. But I get a lot of toilets, and so you
just dispatch a toilet with a hammer, and then you have lumpy tiles. And then the faucet is a beer tap. (Laughter) Then, this panel of glass
is the same panel of glass that occurs in every middle-class
front door in America. We’re getting tired of it.
It’s kind of clichéd now. If you put it in the front door,
your design fails. So don’t put it in the front door;
put it somewhere else. It’s a pretty panel of glass. But if you put it in the front door, people say, “Oh, you’re trying
to be like those guys, and you didn’t make it.” So don’t put it there. Then, another bathroom upstairs. This light up here is the same light that occurs
in every middle-class foyer in America. Don’t put it in the foyer. Put it in the shower, or in the closet, but not in the foyer. Then, somebody gave me
a bidet, so it got a bidet. (Laughter) This little house here, those branches there are made
out of Bois d’arc or Osage orange. These pictures will keep scrolling
as I talk a little bit. In order to do what I do, you have to understand what causes
waste in the building industry. Our housing has become a commodity, and I’ll talk a little bit about that. But the first cause of waste
is probably even buried in our DNA. Human beings have a need
for maintaining consistency of the apperceptive mass. What does that mean? What it means is,
for every perception we have, it needs to tally
with the one like it before, or we don’t have continuity,
and we become a little bit disoriented. So I can show you an object
you’ve never seen before. Oh, that’s a cell phone. But you’ve never seen this one before. What you’re doing is sizing up the pattern
of structural features, and then you go through your databanks: Cell phone. Oh! That’s a cell phone. If I took a bite out of it, you’d go, “Wait a second. (Laughter) “That’s not a cell phone. That’s one of those new
chocolate cell phones.” (Laughter) You’d have to start a new category, right between cell phones and chocolate. (Laughter) That’s how we process information. You translate that
to the building industry. If we have a wall of windowpanes
and one pane is cracked, we go, “Oh, dear. That’s cracked.
Let’s repair it. Let’s take it out and throw it away
so nobody can use it and put a new one in.” Because that’s what you do
with a cracked pane. Never mind that it doesn’t
affect our lives at all. It only rattles that expected pattern
and unity of structural features. However, if we took a small hammer, and we added cracks
to all the other windows — (Laughter) then we have a pattern. Because Gestalt psychology
emphasizes recognition of pattern over parts that comprise a pattern. We’ll go, “Ooh, that’s nice.” So, that serves me every day. Repetition creates pattern. If I have 100 of these, 100 of those, it makes no difference
what these and those are. If I can repeat anything,
I have the possibility of a pattern, from hickory nuts and chicken eggs,
shards of glass, branches. It doesn’t make any difference. That causes a lot of waste
in the building industry. The second cause is, Friedrich Nietzsche, along about 1885, wrote a book titled
“The Birth of Tragedy.” And in there, he said cultures tend to swing
between one of two perspectives: on the one hand,
we have an Apollonian perspective, which is very crisp and premeditated
and intellectualized and perfect. On the other end of the spectrum,
we have a Dionysian perspective, which is more given
to the passions and intuition, tolerant of organic texture
and human gesture. So the way the Apollonian personality
takes a picture or hangs a picture is, they’ll get out a transit and a laser level and a micrometer. “OK, honey. A thousandth
of an inch to the left. That’s where we want
the picture. Right. Perfect!” Predicated on plumb level,
square and centered. The Dionysian personality
takes the picture and goes: (Laughter) That’s the difference. I feature blemish. I feature organic process. Dead center John Dewey. Apollonian mindset
creates mountains of waste. If something isn’t perfect, if it doesn’t line up
with that premeditated model? Dumpster. “Oops. Scratch. Dumpster.” “Oops” this, “oops” that.
Landfill, landfill, landfill. The third thing is arguably — The Industrial Revolution
started in the Renaissance with the rise of humanism, then got a little jump start
along about the French Revolution. By the middle of the 19th century,
it’s in full flower. And we have dumaflaches and gizmos and contraptions that will do anything that we, up to that point, had to do by hand. So now we have standardized materials. Well, trees don’t grow
two inches by four inches, eight, ten and twelve feet tall. (Laughter) We create mountains of waste. And they’re doing a pretty good job
there in the forest, working all the byproduct
of their industry — with OSB and particle board
and so forth and so on — but it does no good to be responsible at the point
of harvest in the forest if consumers are wasting the harvest
at the point of consumption. And that’s what’s happening. And so if something isn’t standard, “Oops, dumpster.” “Oops” this.
“Oops, warped.” If you buy a two-by-four
and it’s not straight, you can take it back. “Oh, I’m so sorry, sir.
We’ll get you a straight one.” Well, I feature all those warped things because repetition creates pattern, and it’s from a Dionysian perspective. The fourth thing is labor is disproportionately
more expensive than materials. Well, that’s just a myth. And there’s a story: Jim Tulles, one of the guys I trained —
I said, “Jim, it’s time now. I got a job for you as a foreman
on a framing crew. Time for you to go.” “Dan, I just don’t think I’m ready.” “Jim, now it’s time.
You’re the down — oh!” So we hired on. And he was out there with a tape measure,
going through the trash heap, looking for header material,
or the board that goes over a door, thinking he’d impress his boss —
that’s how we taught him to do it. The superintendent walked up
and said, “What are you doing?” “Oh, just looking for header material,” waiting for that kudos. He said, “I’m not paying you to go
through the trash. Get back to work.” And Jim had the wherewithal to say, “You know, if you were paying me
300 dollars an hour, I can see how you might say that. But right now, I’m saving you
five dollars a minute. Do the math.” (Laughter) “Good call, Tulles. From now on,
you guys hit this pile first.” And the irony is that he wasn’t
very good at math. (Laughter) But once in a while,
you get access to the control room, and then you can
kind of mess with the dials. And that’s what happened there. The fifth thing is that maybe,
after 2,500 years, Plato is still having his way with us
in his notion of perfect forms. He said that we have in our noggin
the perfect idea of what we want, and we force environmental
resources to accommodate that. So we all have in our head
the perfect house, the American dream, which is a house, the dream house. The problem is we can’t afford it. So we have the American dream look-alike, which is a mobile home. Now there’s a blight on the planet. (Laughter) It’s a chattel mortgage, just like furniture, just like a car. You write the check,
and instantly, it depreciates 30 percent. After a year, you can’t get insurance
on everything you have in it, only on 70 percent. Wired with 14-Gauge wire, typically. Nothing wrong with that, unless you ask it to do
what 12-Gauge wire’s supposed to do, and that’s what happens. It out-gasses formaldehyde — so much so that there is
a federal law in place to warn new mobile home buyers
of the formaldehyde atmosphere danger. Are we just being numbingly stupid? The walls are this thick. The whole thing has
the structural value of corn. (Laughter) “So … I thought Palm Harbor
Village was over there.” “No, no. We had a wind last night. It’s gone now.” (Laughter) Then when they degrade,
what do you do with them? Now, all that — that Apollonian, Platonic model — is what the building industry
is predicated on, and there are a number of things
that exacerbate that. One is that all the professionals, all the tradesmen, vendors, inspectors, engineers, architects all think like this. And then it works its way
back to the consumer, who demands the same model. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.
We can’t get out of it. Then here come the marketeers
and the advertisers. “Woo. Woo-hoo.” We buy stuff we didn’t know we needed. All we have to do
is look at what one company did with carbonated prune juice. How disgusting. (Laughter) But you know what they did? They hooked a metaphor into it
and said, “I drink Dr. Pepper …” And pretty soon, we’re swilling
that stuff by the lake-ful, by the billions of gallons. It doesn’t even have real prunes!
Doesn’t even keep you regular. (Laughter) My oh my, that makes it worse. And we get sucked
into that faster than anything. Then, a man named
Jean-Paul Sartre wrote a book titled “Being and Nothingness.” It’s a pretty quick read.
You can snap through it in maybe — (Laughter) maybe two years, if you read eight hours a day. In there, he talked
about the divided self. He said human beings act differently
when they know they’re alone than when they know
somebody else is around. So if I’m eating spaghetti,
and I know I’m alone, I can eat like a backhoe. I can wipe my mouth on my sleeve,
napkin on the table, chew with my mouth open,
make little noises, scratch wherever I want. (Laughter) But as soon as you walk in, I go, “Oops! Lil’ spaghetti sauce there.” Napkin in my lap, half-bites, chew with my mouth closed, no scratching. Now, what I’m doing
is fulfilling your expectations of how I should live my life. I feel that expectation, and so I accommodate it, and I’m living my life according
to what you expect me to do. That happens in the building
industry as well. That’s why all subdivisions look the same. Sometimes, we even have
these formalized cultural expectations. I’ll bet all your shoes match. Sure enough, we all buy into that … (Laughter) And with gated communities, we have a formalized expectation, with a homeowners’ association. Sometimes those guys are Nazis, my oh my. That exacerbates and continues this model. The last thing is gregariousness. Human beings are a social species. We like to hang together in groups, just like wildebeests, just like lions. Wildebeests don’t hang with lions, because lions eat wildebeests. Human beings are like that. We do what that group does that we’re trying to identify with. You see this in junior high a lot. Those kids, they’ll work
all summer long — kill themselves — so that they can afford
one pair of designer jeans. So along about September, they can stride in and go, “I’m important today. See?
Don’t touch my designer jeans! I see you don’t have designer jeans. You’re not one of the beautiful —
See, I’m one of the beautiful people. See my jeans?” Right there is reason
enough to have uniforms. And so that happens
in the building industry as well. We have confused
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, just a little bit. On the bottom tier, we have basic needs: shelter, clothing, food,
water, mating and so forth. Second: security. Third: relationships. Fourth: status, self-esteem —
that is, vanity — and we’re taking vanity
and shoving it down here. And so we end up with vain decisions, and we can’t even afford our mortgage. We can’t afford to eat
anything except beans; that is, our housing
has become a commodity. And it takes a little bit of nerve to dive into those primal, terrifying parts of ourselves and make our own decisions and not make our housing a commodity, but make it something
that bubbles up from seminal sources. That takes a little bit of nerve, and, darn it, once in a while, you fail. But that’s okay. If failure destroys you, then you can’t do this. I fail all the time, every day, and I’ve had some whopping
failures, I promise — big, public, humiliating,
embarrassing failures. Everybody points and laughs, and they say, “He tried it a fifth time,
and it still didn’t work! What a moron!” Early on, contractors come by and say, “Dan, you’re a cute little bunny, but you know,
this just isn’t going to work. What don’t you do this?
Why don’t you do that?” And your instinct is to say, “Well, why don’t you suck an egg?” (Laughter) But you don’t say that, because they’re the guys you’re targeting. And so what we’ve done — and this isn’t just in housing;
it’s in clothing and food and our transportation
needs, our energy — we sprawl just a little bit. And when I get a little bit of press, I hear from people all over the world. And we may have invented excess, but the problem of waste is worldwide. We’re in trouble. And I don’t wear ammo belts
crisscrossing my chest and a red bandana. But we’re clearly in trouble. And what we need to do is reconnect with those really primal
parts of ourselves and make some decisions and say, “You know, I think I would like to put
CDs across the wall there. What do you think, honey?” If it doesn’t work, take it down. What we need to do is reconnect
with who we really are, and that’s thrilling indeed. Thank you very much. (Applause)

100 thoughts on “Dan Phillips: Creative houses from reclaimed stuff”

  • The US/World economy is going to hell in a hand basket because of Gov/Financial fraud & theft. This guy is giving a slick sell to get you to love your coming poverty and call it "Art". There's another TED Talk preaching the virtues of eating insects… I'll pass thanks, but if you think this is progress, fill your boots. Flame away!

  • @authoradamwhittaker Well, in this context, I would define "better" as designs and materials that would last thru time. In my opinion, it is the most efficient and least wasteful use of natural resources because I care about the environment and quality of life. I am a libertarian in philosophy, so your suspicion about my thinking is wrong – if I have a difference of opinion, I express it with argument and discussion, not force.

  • @authoradamwhittaker 7 minutes ago

    It's one thing to choose to live an austere life (surfer/starving artist), but this – dumpster diving for shelter – is a reality coming๏ปฟ to a neighborhood near you – whether you like it or not. I don't suspect the folks that bankrupted our countries will be choosing this lifestyle, or the well dressed TED Talks audience either. This shill is peeing on your head and calling it rain (oops, I mean "art"). I love big brother…

  • @authoradamwhittaker And yes, I do think these materials should be reused – in the garden shed, a cold frame, cottage, workshop… Why are these becoming more and more necessary for primary shelter? People on the hillside slums of Rio are pretty resourceful too, but I don't think they do it for art's sake or because they choose a "simpler" lifestyle.

  • @BitchyMcHorebottom I did not say single pane glass wouldn't pass, however I question the economics of using it if your heating/cooling costs will quickly eat up the initial savings. I replaced single panes in my 1st house because they collect condensation and rot the sills. I'm not a troll and I don't hurl insults to augment my arguments either. I simply disagree where artistic expression should be used. (When a toddler falls through those porch railings, I suspect those home owners will too.)

  • @BitchyMcHorebottom Calm down Bitchy! It's a free country (so they say) and you can do whatever you want! Texas sounds like an interesting place – beer can inspired architecture an' all. I'd like to visit it one day. I've said my piece. Ya have a nice day now! Peace.

  • What a cool guy.
    years ago I saw a children's animated movie about a city with a trash problem, along comes a man who removes the trash and builds stuff. He builds a castle for himself from the trash of the city.
    In the end of the story the people want him to pay for the trash and accuse him of stealing it from them, they raid his castle and drive him out of the city.

  • Dan is so great. If you can still find them, there are several really neat, long videos featuring him and some of the houses he built with homeowners here on YouTube.

  • Antoon Groenewoud says:

    @mazdaplz Ah thanks

    My parents just gave me a statue of Dyonisius, and I told them I had heard this name before somewhere.. so it was here! =)

  • I was a recycler until I heard a well know holy man say something like – its bad to reuse the vibrations from another person in your home or clothing.

  • lovelovinghorses says:

    Absolutely brilliant talk, what an inspiring man and soo funny too.
    I have always been a recycler, a bit of a womble really but now I shall look t everything with a view to a new use x x

  • @Lawlskates89 What does that have to do with anything???? And guess what, you neither know how to spell, nor use punctuation. This guy is brilliant! How dare a little wienie make such a comment that has nothing to do with his message.

  • I just reminded myself that I have still have to shed some of the brain washing: When I first see some of Dan's house images I ask "But… is it to code?" LOL We need to change "code" thinking and laws. The funny thing is that you can build a staircase that is stronger than code, but if it is not to code, they can tell you to tear if out. That is one of the things that needs to change. TED Talks is a good start towards creating a more open minded box for us to "think inside of".

  • Who are they? The same people who still drive around with McCain-Palin bumper stickers on their gas guzzlers, that's who.

  • OregonCoastGhost says:

    Dan Phillips, thank you! What an inspiration to question the status quo, to re-think design. The humor was also much appreciated.

  • To whoever edits Ted videos: what is with the delays and stutters every time you cut to one of the slides? I could barely even see the 1:44 picture. This has been going on for a while now, and it looks ridiculous.

  • Mr Dan Phillips, Where have you been all my life. AMAZING!!! and LOVE LOVE LOVE your work. Keep it up. I am truly inspired by your life work.
    Thank You!!!

  • get a building permit. pay an engineer. code makes sense. i wouldn't hire you on your comment alone. enjoy making your clients suffer from your inadequacy.

  • XkillerXmannequinsX says:

    i truly loved this, as a young adult i really enjoy learning these things and learning to see differently than the people around me this is just awesome

  • I thought I recycled by seperating metals ferous and non. I thought of using stuff or repurpose. Now i have guts to try think out the box

  • If a building is stuctural sound. Built with alternative materials they can make you tear it down. Code is minimum you can build with overkill ie. Joist 16 in on center u can space 12" its structure stronger but not 20" center it s weaker

  • I agree with supporting an "organic" construction theme in some places. But FUNCTION is the purpose behind precision often-times. Those "warped boards" could cause a house to collapse if they were used in a weight-baring application if the wood did not meet a certain load-baring standard. It would be foolish not to replace it with a functioning piece of wood would it not? We need to reduce waste, I absolutely agree. But precision is sometimes very important in functional design.

  • I'm also all for getting out of preconceived cultural "expectations". But again, there is rhyme and reason for those expectations. I am all for artistic and personal expression through architecture and unique building creations, and more people should practice it. But "breaking out" of cultural expectations is ridiculous, if those expectations include shying away from building a stable foundation, or walls that almost certainly won't collapse, just for the sake of breaking "tradition".

  • Love how people think he's stupid enough to neglect choosing and GRADING timbers based on their structural integrity despite having seen photos of his work WORKING.

  • I agree with the spaghetti comment !
    …I think most of this guys commentary is sound – and don't say he's not concerned with the stability of the building

  • Wow I am in love with this concept and I believe we should all live and build like this,. This concept is The concept of the house I want to build with every fiber of my BEING!!!!!

  • I think it's brilliant and it takes guts to recycle, people will wonder if you're a scavenger, while others understand the population problem is real. We NEED a culture of recycling. I like the houses. I'd buy one as a getaway with hygiene standards met – what's the problem?

  • I always liked weird, unusual and unique houses. I'm annoyed by those neighborhoods where every house looks the same, I want a house that I can distinguish as my own. Interesting talk, I think we do waste a lot so we can fit a cookie-cutter style house and we can learn a lot from people who think outside the box and find uses for things we would normally throw away because it isn't perfect.

  • Foxiepaws ACAnderson says:

    Yes I agree-if more people thought like this it would be a better world. I always liked quirky houses and I want to build a rounded room on to the cabin I'm building, I have no clue of how to go about it yet but where there's a will there's a way!

  • cheryl tebbutt says:

    COME TO LONDON UNITED KINGDOM and show them waht to do , this is a country of SPOILT WASTERS….chucked on land fill and pavements………………COME ON DO THIS ………..

  • A cerebral builder…how often have you heard those two words put together? Great talk. Entertaining, thought provoking, but sadly true!

  • Is anyone else getting borderline obsessive like me about upcycling stuff? I've just recently started collecting a box of odds and ends that normally would be thrown out and I think "one of these days I'm gonna make something useful out of this crap." Which of course I probably won't, but at any rate, Im starting to see just how much trash I generate and it's a bit alarming, because it's just me and I don't consider myself a huge consumer. Who knows, maybe one day I'll have enough crap to build a house of my own..

  • He inverted Maslow's Hierarchy. Ya just can't trust this guy with plumb bob. LOL Love this approach to building, but you need skills and knowledge to do this well.

  • George Bernard Shaw said it best: The reasonable man adapts to the way of the world. Unreasonable men adapt the world to their way of thinking. Therefore, all progress is made by unreasonable men.

  • "Housing is a commodity" = some people are homeless so that house builders and real estate pros can make a profit.

  • Eli Funkenstein says:

    I worked on most of these houses with Dan as a construction worker. Dan is a true artist and brings out the artistic values of all his helpers. I am glad to have had the chance to work with him.

  • Waste not, Want not concept! There's enormous creativity and fruition in every individual! Utilization in all arenas is the magical key! Well said Dan!!!

  • EyesOfTheLion 11 says:

    ha ha ha so funny and interesting. okay are we done amusing ourselves? alright now enough of this hippy bullshit. show us some real solutions.

  • tama yeager gibson says:

    Love it! Except that uniform idea is more conformity. Teach children kindness. Teach children how to think, and that fixes the problem, instead of maski g it. Other than that, awesime! Agree 100% now how do i get building and zoneing on board?

  • Omg what a magical man, absolutely Astonishing unbelievable I would love one of his wonder homes where are you located you are something else Iโ€™ve never seen anything like it the dedication it took to do the cork floors itโ€™s just amazing the framed ceiling made out of corner frames salvage I need all of it is just amazing

  • Jacque Mishler says:

    Please come help build my home,we got lots of stuff, but no help with building something as wonderful as these houses!

  • no i didnt want thaqt i wanted a minecraft server list why did this scome oout u are wastiunhhg my time come one im losing 124 seconds of my life why did u do this tio me

  • I get such a good feeling of this humble man. He is a really special man of great insight courage with a cheeky down to earth sense of humour. God bless you Dan :))) coltrump๐Ÿ‡ณ๐Ÿ‡ฟ

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