Within its gates, the City of Houston Building Materials Reuse Warehouse offers a wellspring of inspiration for nonprofit organizations creative enough to uncover its hidden treasures.
Since opening in 2009, the Reuse Warehouse has diverted more than 3,300 tons of used building materials from area landfills. Salvaged materials are made available for free to nearly 600 participating local nonprofit agencies.
Similar facilities exist in other cities, but Houston’s Reuse Warehouse is the only nonprofit program of its kind to be run by a municipality.
The Reuse Warehouse challenges Houstonians to channel their creativity and environmental sensibilities to create projects from reused materials and enter them in the annual Houston Reuse Contest.
The contest raises community awareness about resources available at the Reuse Warehouse. Participants enter one of two categories: art and furniture, and construction and remodeling. Winning local projects are submitted to the National Reuse Contest. Houston artist Nestor Topchy took the top national prize this year for the construction and remodeling category.
Topchy is among those who see the potential for renewed beauty and purpose among the Reuse Warehouse’s piles and pallets of broken bricks, concrete, ceramic tile, fence boards, doors, window blinds, sinks, pipes and more.
“The Reuse Warehouse is a profound resource, and I think every community should have one like it. We throw away so much stuff it’s unbelievable. Frankly, some of my best work comes from stuff that is recycled or repurposed,” Topchy said.
Thanks to materials collected from the Reuse Warehouse, Topchy created a large-scale eco-friendly landscaping project with several tons of reused concrete. He stacked broken concrete to build retaining walls, bridges and other features of the 16-foot deep eco-pond in his backyard north of the Heights. He dug the pond to help relieve seasonal flooding and create a sustainable ecosystem for native plants and animals.
“My backyard is low and it floods. You have a choice when a river runs through your yard. You can live with the mud, or you can divert the water. I dug a small pond by hand, but it wasn’t enough for the animals and creatures living there,” Topchy said.
“When I had an opportunity, I said I was going to go for it, and dig this sucker out as deep as I possibly can. It’s about 16 feet deep in some spots, and it’s a bit of an overkill, but the creatures are really happy. We have birds, turtles, frogs, fish and native plants. We haven’t noticed a single mosquito, because the fish eat them right away.”
Reuse Warehouse manager Keith Koski encouraged Topchy to enter the contest.
“I’ve known Nestor for decades. He has been coming to the Reuse Warehouse since we opened. Every time we received broken concrete, we let Nestor know,” Koski said. “It’s an honor that a Houstonian, and my dear friend, won this national prize.”
Representatives from the Houston City Council, Solid Waste Department, ReUse People of America, Keep Houston Beautiful and other community groups celebrated Earth Month in April by honoring winners of the 2016 contest. A crowd gathered at the Reuse Warehouse to browse projects that gave new life to old junk.
Ted Reiff, president of the Oakland-based ReUse People of America, presented Topchy with a framed poster of his project and a $1,000 prize check. Topchy was also recognized and presented with a proclamation at an April City Council meeting.
“I wasn’t on the contest jury, but I think Nestor’s project won first prize because of the quantity and variety of reused materials, as well as the potential positive environmental impact of his pond,” Reiff said.
Topchy is the founder and the executive director of Habitable Interdisciplinary Visionary Environment. His art has been exhibited nationally and internationally at Ivan Honchar Museum Folkculture in Kyiv, Ukraine; Evergreen Museum at Johns Hopkins University; La Museo de Nacion in Lima, Peru; Edinburg Fringe Festival in Edinburg, Scotland; Grace Space NYC and Houston museums including the Museum of Fine Arts, Contemporary Arts Museum, the Menil Collection and Byzantine Fresco Chapel Museum.
Watch this video to learn more about the Reuse Warehouse.