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"Gray to Green" takes the notion of the three R's (reduce, reuse, recycle) to grand proportions by looking at Boston's "Big Dig" and the massive amount of waste created by the $15 billion public works project. Paul Pedini, a civil engineer on the project, had the idea to build his own home from the Big Dig waste. The success of this project sparked plans to create an office complex in Massachusetts from the same recycled material. These innovative projects serve as prototypes to demonstrate to city officials that there is value in recycling on such a grand level.

Gray to Green
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Gray to Green
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Gray to Green
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Paul Pedini
VP, Jay Cashman Inc

Pedini is vice president of Jay Cashman Inc, a firm responsible for building the vital infrastructure, foundations and civil engineering networks essential to business communities along the East Coast. It deals with a number of ecological challenges such as: contaminated property assessment and clean up, brownfield restoration and redevelopment, landfill closure, wetlands migration and clean up, and environmental dredging and sediment management. Pedini is also the developer and owner of the Big Dig House and a civil engineer on the Big Dig.

Jinhee Park & John Hong
Principals, SINGLE speed DESIGN

Jinhee Park & John Hong of SINGLE Speed DESIGN created an alternative practice that spans industrial, architectural and urban designs, with an emphasis on sustainability. They are the lead architects behind Paul Pedini's Big Dig House. They both received their Masters in Architecture from the Harvard Design School. Park studied urban scale solutions to Seoul's metropolitan sprawl and was selected to participate in the international Madrid Games conference to envision new urban design strategies for the 2012 Olympic games. Hong currently teaches design studios at Northeastern University, serves on the editorial board of Architecture Boston and was recently awarded the AIA Young Architects Award for "The Big Dig" house.

The Big Dig House serves as a prototype for future Big Dig architecture, where the structural system for the house is almost entirely comprised of steel and concrete waste from the dig, utilizing over 600,000 lbs of recycled material. At $15 billion, the Big Dig is the most expensive public works project in American history, which resulted in the tunneling beneath the Central Artery and dismantling and discarding the elevated highway and roadways, producing waste on a phenomenal scale. Together with SINGLE Speed DESIGN, owner and engineer Paul Pedini used pieces of I-93 offramps to create an innovative and aesthetically challenging design.

-"I think it's important that people start looking at the problem we have with all the waste that we're creating and come up with creative ways of reusing it."-



They use 40% of the world's energy, emit 50% of its greenhouse gases.

"They" are not the cars we drive. "They" are the buildings where we work, live, and grow. Buildings designed with an unconscious disregard for nature.

Adopting sustainable alternatives is not only a matter of progress, it's a matter of survival.

Design: e2, the economies of being environmentally conscious.




What does it mean to be environmentally conscious today? To recycle your newspapers, bottles and cans? Sure.

But what about massive construction materials designed for a single purpose? What happens when the job is done? With construction waste consuming 25% of our landfills, is there not a better way to adapt and re-use our engineering marvels?

Perhaps the way we think is what needs to be discarded.

Well the Big Dig was an idea that was hatched back in the early 1980's. The idea was that the elevated central artery, which was built in the 1950's and wound its way through the heart of downtown Boston, was getting old, it was falling apart and it was overburdened with traffic. So, what to do with it? Well, you could re-build it, or you could put it underground, so that was the basic idea. Put it underground and demolish the elevated artery and put parks and development and new public space there.

This job wasn't just a tunnel, it was building a tunnel through the most densely populated part of Boston, certainly the most valuable real estate in Boston. Doing it through corridors of utilities that are mind-boggling. Doing it at the same time using the structural elements of the new tunnel to hold up the old elevated highways as it was still being used above. It was an incredible task.

Now, 20 years later, it went from an original price tag of about 2.8 billion to the current 14.6 billion. So it became a very expensive project to build. And there was a lot of cynicism because of the problems, because it took so long and it cost more than they said it was going to.

I think the Big Dig started off with a bang and enthusiasm for the project has waned the last few years but we're really in the finishing stages now and I think that the enduring legacy of the Big Dig - we're already seeing it in that it's improved transportation in the city I think dramatically, at least from my perspective. And once the parks are open and uh the green spaces have been completed, I think the whole affinity for the Big Dig will become much stronger.

Years from now, when that greenway is finished, I think it's gonna be pretty inspiring and Boston is gonna be a really, a really special place with that kind of public space and parks. But, was that worth 14 billion dollars?

Not to mention, the waste from demolished buildings, bridges, and temporary highways. The dismantled central artery produced 20,000 tons of concrete and more than 38,000 tons of steel. Who on earth would find this inspiring?

I've been on the project for 11 years so my job actually changed over the course of that time. I started out as a project manager, running a single project, which was one of the first tunnel sections but over the last 8 or 9 years, I've been a vice president of one of the major construction companies on the project. Any time your project is a federally funded transportation project, there are certain standards that have to be met. Obviously, if it's gonna be a bridge and it's gonna carry passengers every day, it has to be the best there is. And the scrutiny that the materials receive when they're being manufactured is so intense that it guarantees it's the best material you can buy. That's all the more reason that it should be available for reuse because it's great stuff and really it's built to last a long time. These slabs are inverset slabs. They're specially fabricated for use in temporary structures. When you want to build a bridge quickly, you incorporate the steel beams into the pouring of these concrete slabs and they can be assembled in short order when you want to build a temporary structure like the ones we used in the central artery.

They suggested that we take the last 40 or 50 panels and break them up. Basically crush them up and destroy them and I asked if we could take possession of them rather than get paid to crush them up. And the state agreed and they asked me in the meeting what are you gonna do with the last few panels? And I told them I was gonna build a house. And everybody in the room started laughing. But I wasn't, I was serious and really the design of the house started to take shape that day.

I knew that I needed someone with an eye to help put together, especially the exterior, and help me with the layout and I really wasn't looking for the architect when I found him. I was looking for a piece of land. I'd pick a spot of town and I'd run up and down the streets just looking for a vacant lot or a for sale sign and I was running through Cambridge Port one day and I turned the corner and I saw this fantastic minimalist house and it was just something you don't see in Cambridge very often. So I saw the name on the sign out front and when I got home I emailed Single Speed Design. I referred to it as "Junkyard Wars" meets "Habitat For Humanity" and, he, when he first read it he thought it was a prank and I think he was a little bit tentative on responding but he eventually did and I invited him down to my office and we went for a walk through the junk pile.

He did invite us over to see the stuff, junk that he calls it. He said he's a professional junk collector and it was uh, definitely piles of steel and concrete that were formless at that point and they're obviously dismantled. And it was fun looking at things and he was very well versed in their technical abilities like this beam can span this amount of distance, this slab can hold this much so it was actually very exciting to not see this stuff as junk but to see it as potential.

We asked Paul can you put this thing in the top or how much this thing can support and it's a simultaneous like a brainstorming.

The potential of two-ton concrete slabs and massive structural steel beams, once considered "waste," quickly became a thing of beauty. Or so they thought.

The only people that seemed excited about it was Paul and us.

Yeah, because we showed many people because we were excited about it but then the reaction was just pure skepticism.

The thing that struck me was when I was dealing with the financial institutions when I first went for a loan, they were only willing to give me half of what I ultimately received because they doubted the marketability of this type of a house. They were nervous about the contemporary look of it to begin with but when I mentioned that it was gonna be built from recycled materials, their interest levels just went right down.

You know real estate people say you should never be the first guy on the block, uh, you know in terms of renovating or starting a new idea. But architects who innovate, they're always the first guy on the block. They're always the early proposers and early adapters and they suffer, you know the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune as a result. But they're dogged, too, you know they're on a mission.

So, I re-doubled my efforts on finding real estate and we were lucky we stumbled in on a piece where the house is located right now. And here we were lucky enough that not only was a contemporary, not something that uh that was against the local aesthetic. There was a covenant on the site, on the parcel of land which dictated that a contemporary had to be built. So we were really happy, we moved pretty quickly on it.

Six Moon Hill is a neighborhood created in 1947, dedicated to modernist ideals. The question is, do those ideals still invite innovation and boldness?

What you've got is a small group of people who trained with Walter Gropius, who went into a neighborhood, got some land and said, we really want to make not a house but a neighborhood and that's going to be a model for a way to live. And in this way it harkens both to very profound and deep threads in American culture that have to do with utopianism.

I went for an individual meeting with the then chairman of the Moon Hill community, Dick Morehouse, and he was uh a really wonderful man and he brought me in his house and he looked at the plans and as a professional architect who designed his own Moon Hill house, after looking at the plans, he said that's lovely and I'm very excited but you'll never build that here in a million years. So, we took that as a no and we went back to the drawing board and we tried to look at what they would want as, we thought what were the elements of the Bauhaus that they would want us to replicate?

T hey wanted us to actually follow the 40's and 50's aesthetic and the only exposed structure they wanted us to show were 6 inch round metal columns. We don't have any of those in our building, so.

We decided we're not gonna give up. We'll go back and we'll change it. In fact John and Jinhee I believe came up and drove around the neighborhood and picked off key aesthetic features of the other houses and came back with a design that was eventually accepted.

Structurally, we, I think we did push the envelope as much as we could one of the things that we were free to do on this house was that the exterior wall doesn't have to bear any weight because the weight is of course the highway pieces on the columns so there was a lot of freedom in the exterior, way we made openings.

The thing that I wanted to do with the house, and I think John and Jinhee, and eventually Christina all agreed on was that we would try to make it as big a space as we could. We really wanted to try to utilize the materials, the best characteristics of the materials, which allow you to do big open spaces.

We wanted to bring in like an airy feeling inside and the site is really well preserved actually. So there's many big trees on the sides - pretty beautiful surroundings. We want to bring the nature in the inside so we put up big like windows.

This beam was originally one of the struts that when we tunneled through downtown Boston, we put structural walls in, but in order to avoid settlement outside the tunnel, which was a critical concern, considering the fact that the adjacent structures were historical, we had to install internal braces to keep the walls from moving in and these beams, used in pairs laced together, were the struts for the tunnel. So we have this point where the beam runs through the wall. Obviously it gets pretty cold in these parts and outside the steel's gonna cool down. We were afraid of the cold intruding, right through the steel. So we tried to focus on heating the steel right at the wall interface and that's what you can see with these raised panels on the webs. Behind those panels are loops of the radiant system that's also in the floors. And when the temperature outside gets below 40 degrees, there's a discreet circuit that turns on and it pushes hot water through those loops and it heats the end of the steel beams.

It was kind of a technical hurdle we had to clear that became a kind of nice feature as well. Since the beams will hold and heat energy for a long period of time.

Due to the unique materials used for this size house, innovative solutions were a necessity. The beams not only hold up the structure and define its style, but heat the house as well.

When we built the house we had the entire steel support system built in a day and we took 13 of these slabs and they became the floor of the house and it took us two days to assemble those. So the whole house, the whole structure was basically complete in three days. We super-sized the foundations to four foot square and they go down and they sit on a slab of concrete that's eight foot square and two foot thick and that's sitting on solid rock, so there is zero chance that this house is going to settle, but it's a heck of a lot of weight. We calculate it to be about 500 tons. So its about a million pounds.

Well my wife Christina is a water resources engineer and as such her, one of her main focuses was to reclaim water and we have the Japanese garden on the roof of the garage we thought that it would be best to collect the water from that garden.

You put in a water-proofing layer, as in any other roof, because you don't want to have leaks but then before putting your soil you have to put the drainage layer that also filters the water so it doesn't contain any type of suspended particles in it. And that water goes into a cistern, and then you just have to pump it up back.

He's reinventing this Bauhaus idea, this American Utopian idea by using discarded highway parts. I think that's what's so wonderful about this, this project and the projects that are supposed to come out of it, is that it's wonderfully fresh thinking, it's adventuresome thinking and it's both tied to modernism's roots. At the same time it very much looks to the future.

I think we fit in. We push the boundaries obviously a lot. We have the steel showing outside the house and those were the things that I think made certain people nervous in the beginning, but now that people have become used to it, it's, it's now the sort of the feature of the house that people tend to notice.

Right now I think we're at a level of like, not tolerance, but as soon as we have a bathroom done, I'll be ready. You know Vrrrm! I'll move in.

I'm really liking the way it looks now. I'll be a, I'll be a heck of a lot more happy when I'm shooting pool in the kitchen in a couple months.

So much of smart growth and sustainable development is just about models and successful models and then people can look at it and say "Hey that's pretty neat, that makes a lot of sense" and the next project is easier to do because of that and that happens a lot in smart growth and green building where it takes one project to sort of break the ice and then after that it becomes suddenly you know more acceptable and indeed sought after.

A couple of the neighbors were a little bit reserved in their comments especially when it was, in the beginning when it was big and ugly and it was a lot of steel and concrete showing but they've all been incredibly supportive. But what's interesting to me is that a couple of the neighbors have actually come forth and asked if we could give them prices to build them a house and I think that that is undoubtedly the best flattery one can get on a house like this. And we hope to do a much larger commercial project and I think that's when the real, the real notoriety will come.

What are the possibilities for other discarded freeways, old bridges and demolished overpasses? Is there a second life out there waiting for them? Will we be smart enough to recognize it?

Metropolis started the Next Generation Design Competition in 2004 and John and Jinhee Hong from Single Speed Design entered a house, a housing project actually, a housing development, which is multiple housing, based on the raw materials that they had mined from the Big Dig. The judges were saying that if we're going to talk about sustainability, we're gonna have to also think about tighter development. So, their, Single Speed's proposal re-using the structure of, some of the structure of the Big Dig and making it into beautiful housing, which is by the way extremely beautiful, and that was so compelling to everyone that they just swept over every other project, and so they won the 10,000 dollar prize of, that, Metropolis offers to develop a big idea.

It was a kind of public recognition finally that the idea was possibly legitimate that it was possibly a good idea. Once you get large in scale, its that much more simpler to assemble it, you save that much more time, labor and materials. If you fit the pieces in their most natural way, it's basically rebuilding the highway. I mean its kind of, that was one of the revelations I think in the project, we were trying to do so many things with it, and then we admitted "This thing is a highway. Let's just assemble it." and all of the sudden it was curved it was elegant.

We want to kind of celebrate the materials and we want to kind of express the beauty of the material too.

So it's not just about recycling our cans and bottles, even our old highways. It's about recycling the way we think, taking our old ideas and giving them new life, and tapping into possibilities that are limitless.

I think the idea is growing and people are looking at this as a very interesting solution to the garbage problem, the construction garbage problem. I mean, it's a huge issue and when we stop labeling it and just do it and call it architecture or call it really good design, then I think we have achieved something.

When they built the temporary bridges on the artery with the structures, they did so with the purpose of disassembling them. It would be quick to take them apart. There's no reason why any structure of this type anywhere in the country in the future can't be built in the same fashion. It should be a mandate that any temporary structure would be designed with materials that could be easily reused, and if I could take it apart as easily as these slabs were taken apart, throw them in a truck and take them to another place, there is no end to that cycle, because these materials will last hundreds of years if they are properly maintained. But it's usually because it is too big, or it's the way it was attached to the original structure you have to pretty much destroy it to free it up. All you need is a little bit of thinking in the beginning to that first structure goes together with the intent of taking it apart. And that's where I think a lot of progress can be made immediately. There's materials everywhere, that if you just look, you can find them, I don't worry about supply at all, I think that regardless of what city you're in, we're taking down a bridge right now In Charlestown, South Carolina and there's 27 thousand tons of steel that are going to be produced by that bridge and jobs like that are happening everyday.

Over 60 percent of the world's energy goes into building, heating or cooling or dealing with the construction waste of buildings and that buildings themselves, just in terms of the amount of space of the planet surface that they cover, actually have a big impact on the environment. I think that there is this growing awareness that we should be taking more care in how we build buildings and making sure that they have less of an impact on the environment and that they're more efficient in terms of the energy use.

Adaptive re-use, you know we've been talking about that a great deal for decades now and I think that's part of the sustainability story is that you use what you have and where you have it. So whether it's an old building that's perfectly adaptable to a new use and lives on and creates a whole new environment for new uses, or whether you use the materials that are available to you, like the materials of the Big Dig. Those are all really important to think about.

Anything's possible. Anything's possible, and you shouldn't disregard any possibility in thinking. And it makes sustainable architecture exciting, and that's I think the value.

I think we enjoy the fact that people are excited about the house, but I think it's more important that people get behind the idea behind that house, and start looking at the problem we have with all the waste that we're creating on projects like this and come up with creative ways of reusing it. And since most of this construction is federally funded, I would think that the government would create a program or could create a program where that second use, which would be a permanent use, could be engineered into the job at the out set, and I think that our next move, aside from additional construction projects, is to foster some sort of engineering study that will encourage the government to set up a program like that.



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Gray to Green

Episode Trailer 0:30 min

Gray to Green

Episode Excerpt 3:00 min