Ethan Lu on "Upcycling" in Puerto Rico


As the Director of Graduate Studies & Sustainability Area Coordinator at NYSID, I recently had the opportunity to represent the School as one of the keynote speakers at the 2012 Annual Assembly & Convention for the Association of Interior Designers & Decorators of Puerto Rico, also known as CODDI (Colegio de Diseñadores-Decoradores de Interiores). I was grateful for the opportunity to engage with our fellow interior designers and design educators down in Puerto Rico and see what new design initiatives were happening on the island.

This year’s topic was “upcycling"—the process of taking a used or discarded product and refashioning it to create an entirely new product of higher quality. This is a popular eco-trend and you see more and more examples of it every day, from jewelry made from plastic bottles to furniture made of flip flops!

My keynote lecture—entitled Upcycling in the Sustainability Built Environment—explored the current trends of upcycling and the different ways that everyday materials and objects can be repurposed to breathe new life into architecture and interior design. I also touched on the concepts of “Reduce, Reuse and Recycle” and its origins from the leaders of sustainability who pioneered regenerative design models such as Cradle to Cradle, Biomimicry and Natural Capitalism.

This year’s convention was very inspirational to the designers and educators of Puerto Rico because the topic of material reuse and conservation on the island really resonates with the people.  They share a lot of the same dilemmas, like many other countries around the world, of a local economy that deals with growth and expansion on a land with limited natural resources.  I was truly grateful to interact with so many people that cared about their natural and built environment.

And I will bring much of what I learned back to the classroom at NYSID. Upcycling is already integrated into the curriculum of our MPS in Sustainable Interior Environments (MPS-S) program. For example, Carol Derby’s Sustainable Softgoods course addresses creative ways to upcycle sustainable materials for the built environment, but I think it’s important to instill the upcycling mentality within all of our students.

I would like to thank Sofía Liceaga (President), Joel Racet and Wanda Torres (Vice Presidents) from the Colegio de Diseñadores-Decoradores de Interiores for extending this invitation to NYSID and to Dinorah Bonilla for coordinating everything.


Phyllis Greer