(Photo courtesy of RumahIntaran)

Architectural Perspective on Zero Waste


JANUARY 14, 2021

In his 2003 book, titled Building Ecology, Peter Graham emphasizes the laws and principles which underpin the act of building sustainably and ecologically. One of these principles, the third law, deliberates the importance of materials by urging us to “only create by-products that are nutritious or raw materials for resource production”. 

An example of such is reusing, refurbishing and recycling material components of buildings.

Bali-based architect, Gede Kresna, is well known for his eco-architectural structure, Rumah Intaran. Kresna shared his recent programs and projects in a Webinar “Build It Green!” (BIG) hosted by the Department of Architecture at the University of Indonesia in 2020. 

Kresna was strongly inspired by Pramoedya Ananta Toer (1925-2006), an Indonesian writer and critic, who once articulated “be honest in mind”, or “jujur sejak dalam pikiran”. Kresna has translated the meaning of architecture into a simple definition: “Do not create waste during the design process.” 


In order to prevent waste production, he prefers to conduct prior research, such as physical modeling, in order to preserve materials and prevent waste production. This research process in turn minimizes the possibility of obtaining an excess in materials and allows the medium to be used effectively in alternative spaces. 

In his work, Kresna often utilizes wood which has been salvaged from old houses and shipwrecked boats on Bali Island, as shown in the photo. By actively seizing such opportunities, he is able to repeatedly employ the same materials so long as their condition is preserved. According to the waste hierarchy released by the American Environmental Protection Agency (USA EPA), this action is considered to be of the highest efficacy owing to its inherent act of recycling and source reduction.

According to data released by the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, Indonesia and its 260 million inhabitants are producing more food waste (about 44 percent by types ), most of which is household-generated (about 62 percent). Although waste treatments such as composting and recycling (12 percent) are implemented, more than 69 percent of total waste is transported directly to landfill. 

Furthermore, a 2014 survey by the Central Statistics Agency (BPS) indicated that a mere 9–32 percent of households were effectively separating their waste. With the sheer amount of household rubbish currently entering landfill it is unsurprising that the key to successful waste management is waste separation, which, in Indonesia, is quite low. 

This predicament is evocative of a quote from Up Cycle, written by McDonough and Braungart: “We don’t have energy problems; we have a materials-in-the-wrong-place problem.”

Regarding the aforementioned practice of eliminating waste in architecture, it is apparent that architects play an important role, both as the designer and also the teacher. The environmental benefits of using sustainable building materials may be hindered by insufficiently educating consumers on the importance of ecological construction practices. The practice of waste prevention begins in the initial conversations between client and architect, where the principles of the zero-waste initiative are communicated. 
In his recent book, Saving The Planet By Design, world renowned Malaysian architect, Dr Ken Yeang, reiterates the imperative shift from “take-make-dispose linear econom[ies]” to a “circular flow of take-make-reuse-recycle-replenish-reintegrate” systems. 

Architects in particular play an instrumental role in shifting the paradigm from a linear to a circular economy where resources are used more effectively.  As stated by McDonough and Braungart in Cradle to Cradle, mere waste reduction is insufficient – one must avoid waste disposal altogether, as every piece plays a part within the circular economy. 

An example of this practice is pictured above, where a restaurant in Solo has integrated recycled materials into its otherwise traditional composition.  Although contemporary designs such as this are known to reduce costs and waste, there remains reluctance among some to embrace these eclectic mixes of ornamentation. Be that as it may, the impossible task of creating a design which satisfies all tastes has long been the struggle of the architect.


Ova Candra Dewi is a scholar from the Department of Architecture, the University of Indonesia, and an environmental activist.

She can be reached through Email: ova.candewi@ui.ac.id