Whole House Reuse, a project facilitated by Rekindle and supported by Creative New Zealand, Canterbury Museum and the Sustainable Initiatives Fund (SIFT), has been created to make explicit the scale and breadth of materials of one modest home in order to deliver a broader understanding of the waste occurring as a result of demolition in Christchurch and throughout the country, and to provoke problem solving and innovation around future uses for materials currently being treated as waste.

Any Christchurch home that has stood for generations will typically contain an abundance of native timbers of a quality we won’t mill again, an obvious tragedy as the digger moves rapidly through the dishevelled stretches of land. Each home will also contains a story of social history – time encapsulated in layers of paint and wallpaper; 1980s renovations; perishing lino hidden under carpet; memories big and small.

The Whole House Reuse project (WHR) intends to act as both a mark of respect for countless homes lost through demolition, and as an avenue to create use and demand for resources that currently end up in landfill, by setting out to salvage the entire material of one modest red-zoned home in Christchurch, and asking creators throughout the country to transform these materials into purposeful, beautiful works.

WHR also hopes to visually quantify the irreplaceable material being otherwise lost in the often hasty demolition process, and spark realistic discussion on the pros and cons of deconstruction and demolition. There are many factors that contribute to the high percentage of waste currently being created by demolition in Christchurch. An increasingly competitive tendering process which has consequently reduced the average price of residential demolition has created a need for speed with each job. The cheapest demolition is usually the quickest, and digger use is naturally a more effective spend than physical labour. Alternatively, the deconstruction and salvage of a home involves an immediate labour cost that raises the overall price of the demolition, and then there are additional costs related to transportation, storage and the on-sale of the salvaged resources.

Over nine days in August and September 2013 a professional salvage crew fully deconstructed the single storey red-zoned home at 19 Admirals Way situated in the Christchurch suburb of New Brighton. Along with a team of volunteers, the entire material of the home aside from the concrete ring foundation was dismantled by hand and transported into storage.

From there, 480 materials listings were recorded in the Catalogue of Resources that Whole House Reuse presented to the creative community of New Zealand during its Design stage. This amazing record of the material of one home was contained within a book, Whole House Reuse: Deconstruction, that was released at the launch of the Design stage (30th January 2014). This publication tells the first chapter of the story with photographic and written documentation of the salvage of 19 Admirals Way, a conversation with the homeowners, and a research paper on deconstruction in New Zealand.

Since then, over 250 people from around New Zealand and the world have invented ways of reusing these resources and the result is a huge collection of objects from delicately carved taonga puoro (flute) by master carver Brian Flintoff, to a finely crafted backyard studio by artist Nic Moon and architectural designer Lyn Russell.

The exhibition at the Canterbury Museum from 5 June – 23 August 2015 showcases original works by some of the country’s finest designers and craftspeople and it also includes works by school children, retired experts, community organisations like Kilmarnock Enterprises, and students of various arts and crafts. Participants have created works all over New Zealand and as far away as Illinois and Ohio in the USA, London and the Isle of Tiree in the UK.

Chairs made of lath wood, delicate bowls made from window glass, precious musical instruments carved from floorboards and made from plastic piping. From fine jewellery and cutlery to furniture and toys, the reused materials have taken on a new life in the form of nearly 400 objects.