Wonderful Waste

Wonderful Waste with Five Mile Radius

Inspired by her time as an architect in India, Clare Kennedy based her own architecture and design studio on a Mahatma Gandhi principle; to build with materials found within a Five Mile Radius of their homes.

By using salvaged materials such as leftover concrete from building sites and low carbon bio-based materials, Five Mile Radius turns construction waste into bespoke, custom furniture made with extreme consideration of the product’s lifespan. Apart from that, the studio aims to inspire Australians to build using ethically sourced materials and revolutionise the Australian construction industry.

We’re really big believers that objects and materials hold stories. They hold meaning and relate to where they’ve come from as well.

Clare Kennedy

NTS caught up with Clare, our guest in our third Wonderful Waste episode, to talk about the history and growth of Five Mile Radius, what they are currently working on, and why sustainability in design is much needed.

NTS: Could you tell us more about how Five Mile Radius came about?
During my time in India, I travelled around a lot and I started cataloguing local materials and techniques, documenting the way that people would use their local resources to create buildings. As part of that process, I became very interested in the connection between designer and craftsman, along with the connection between the building and the maker.

That’s how Five Mile Radius really began—as a catalogue of building materials built from local resources. As part of that journey, I became aware of a Gandhi philosophy; trying to source materials from within a five mile radius of your site so you end up supporting your local economy and environment. Buildings look like they’ve come from a specific region, so they’re very culturally significant.

NTS: How has Five Mile Radius grown since you started it?
Five Mile Radius began in a shed on the outskirts of Brisbane and we were a team of young architects who would come together on the weekends to experiment with materials. We were going to build things together out of sustainable local materials from our city. We weren’t a business that was founded based on a strong economic prospect; more about trying to find a working business model that would allow us to maintain some of our ethics.

I think when we began, people reacted with a little bit of caution. However, it’s obvious now that trying to use more sustainable materials in construction is what we need to do. A lot of older architects may have felt there was a bit of naivety to what we were doing, but we were also speaking to a part of their past in architecture that they were interested in bringing back.

NTS: Where do you source recycled materials?
Well, we predominantly get our concrete from smaller-scale residential job sites. They’ll have 0.1 or anywhere up to a whole cubic metre left over. From one cubic metre of concrete, we can make 100 terrazzo tables (made with crushed brick, salvaged stone, and ceramic tiles), but we’re not quite set up to make that many tables at once. We’re working on ways to be able to take much larger quantities and salvage more waste concrete.

The premise of our waste range is that we’d rather make furniture as something that people will keep and hold on to; rather than concrete going into landfill, it becomes something that will last a lifetime.

Clare Kennedy

NTS: Are you working with more than waste concrete at the moment?
In terms of recycling and waste, hardwood timber needs more attention.

We became good friends with Kennedy’s Timbers, a recycled timber supplier that stores thousands of old telegraph poles, timbers that actually have an infinite lifespan if they’re looked after and treated appropriately. Kennedy’s Timbers are really interested in trying to reimagine and reuse this hardwood, so we thought, let’s create a furniture range from these telegraph poles which predominantly aren’t being used.

The design was a really fun process where the goal was to not waste any timber. We often sell the telegraph stools in pairs, as you get two stools from one log and they interlock. We burn the outside of the stools using a Japanese method for preserving timber, shou sugi ban, to give added durability to the surface and a uniform finish to these different types of timber exposed to all sorts of weathering conditions.

NTS: Any projects you’re currently working on?
Our architecture practice is currently working on a large hospitality project that’s informing the next range of furniture from our workshop. The push and pull between the two sides of the business keeps things dynamic.

We’re continuing to expand our concrete range, and looking at more timber furniture. We’re going to start working a little bit more with recovered steel, so you can expect to see a few more things happening there.

We’re also part of a team working on a multi-residential building in the centre of Brisbane, and our role there is to really help the architect understand and reduce the existing materials on site and source as many other ethical materials as we can.

NTS: Lastly, why do you think design has such a big role in pushing consumers and businesses towards sustainability?
Designers have a role to try and change consumer behaviour as much as possible because we’re still in this place where new means good. It’s really up to the designer to make sure that the materials the public are supplied with are doing more good than harm to the planet.

It’s our responsibility to provide consumers with products that are sourced responsibly and that we’ve considered what will happen if the products are no longer wanted.

Clare Kennedy

Interviewed by Colin Chee and Luke Clark.

Edited by Claryss Kuan for length and clarity.

Images by NeverTooSmall & Five Mile Radius