I was watching television news on the couch with my 10-year-old nephew last weekend and was captivated by a segment that profiled the work of Dan Phillips, a 64 year-old man from Huntsville, Texas who builds low-income houses out of trash. Yep, trash.

The segment has stuck with me in a few ways during this week’s production activities. Phillips’ work reminds me of the kindred efforts of Rural Studio (one of my all-time favorite programs), and it has resonance with our upcoming program with environmentalist Bill McKibben, specifically around the theme of human vitality and community in our changing natural world.

It also sparks thoughts about education and vocation raised during Krista’s interview with Mike Rose (to air in January). In that last way, I was struck by the difference in approach between Phoenix Commotion (Phillips’ initiative) and Rural Studio. Rural Studio trains highly educated architecture students to build homes from salvaged materials; Phillips employs unskilled laborers as apprentices and teaches “anyone with a work ethic” how to build. The result is the same: affordable homes made from recycled materials that are both functional and artistic, sustainable and unique.

I dug around for more info on Dan Phillips, and found a great slideshow of his work, as well as more photographs via Flickr. This is the kind of tangible activity that gives me hope, for our planet and for our humanity. My nephew, whose face was buried in his iPod Touch during the entire TV segment, looked up at the end and said “That’s cool.” I didn’t know he’d been listening.

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Thank you for reminding me of this wonderful story!


I wish that everyone could know about these projects, these people, and their communities.

This is a wonderful example of the large-scale Trash-to-Treasure projects my students can aspire to! I teach an after school class called "Trash-to-Treasure", and we collect trash from our school and homes, and repurpose it to make usable items. My students in Carbondale, Colorado are collaborating with the Carbondale Council on Arts an Humanities to design and construct the back drop for the upcoming Youth Fashion Show, November 19th, out of trash. A local woodworking and manufacturer is donating large flats of cardboard and wood to help us...I can't wait to show my students what is happening outside our community, and how this class is just the beginning.