The Recycled, Post-Industrial Green Building Material: Urbanite

  • Published on April 6th, 2010 by
This is urbanite.

Urbanite is the perfect symbol for the new natural building movement, the new wave of building that incorporates natural, local, and recycled materials in place of high embodied energy, destructive, and ultimately unsustainable building practices.

Urbanite is the name for reclaimed, recycled concrete from the demolition of roads, buildings, and sidewalks. It is typically broken up by heavy machinery, and either thrown in ditches, the landfill, or is left sitting in giant yards or alongside roads. The stuff can be found literally everywhere, once you actually notice it.

However, this material is perfect for building the foundations of homes and other structures, giving all of that concrete a second and much more beautiful life. Urbanite is a great symbol for a green building revolution!

I recently went to collect urbanite for my own building project, a kitchen that will be built using mostly natural and reclaimed building materials, including local wood, straw bales, cob, and urbanite. I have used urbanite before, but this time, walking in a giant yard brimming with the stuff, I got a decidedly post-industrial feeling about the whole thing. There was something sorta post-modern about the whole affair: scrambling over giant piles of rubble from dozens of demolition jobs, looking for the right size pieces of concrete to reuse in a completely different sort of building. I imagined that if I didn’t pick through this stuff, it would likely still be there the next year, and the next, and probably until well beyond my life or that of even our current capitalist, globalized society.

Wading through a concrete wasteland...

Concrete is, after all, pretty much completely non-biodegradable. And it is used absolutely everywhere: roads, walls, bridges, paths, houses, etc. The consumption of concrete is utterly massive: it’s the second most consumed material on earth, second only to water. That, I think, is absolutely horrifying. Concrete is here to stay. It’s not going to return to the earth anytime soon, like a fallen tree in the forest. That concrete block will look the same for hundreds (or thousands?) of years.

And here is why urbanite is the perfect symbol for a new green building movement: to take old concrete from roads and big buildings, those things that symbolize the achievements of our sprawling, ecologically destructive society, and to reuse them in natural homes, homes built by human hands, using other natural and recycled materials, is a brilliant thing.

From a road to the foundation of a cob house

The idea that urbanite serves as a literal and figurative foundation is beautiful!

p.s. Interested in learning more about green and natural building? Consider participating in a green building internship with New Jura Natural Building.

About the Author

I'm a 26-year-old currently living at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage in northeast Missouri, an intentional community devoted to sustainable living and culture change. Things you might find me doing here (other than blogging) are building with natural materials, gardening, beekeeping, making cheese, candlemaking, and above all else, living simply. You can read about my on-going natural building projects at: