Big Dig House

Big Dig House

Lexington, MA 2006
[ AIA/BSA Housing Design Award, Metropolis Next Generation Prize, Featured in Resource Salvation: The Architecture of Reuse ]

As a prototype building that demonstrates how infrastructural refuse can be salvaged and reused, the structural system for this house is comprised of steel and concrete discarded from Boston’s Big Dig. Utilizing over 600,000 pounds of materials from elevated portions of the dismantled I-93 highway, the reassembly of the materials was planned as if it were a pre-fabricated system, able to take on many configurations. The materials are capable of carrying much higher loads than standard structure, easily allowing the integration of large scale roof gardens and other programmatic inventions. Although not formally an example of ‘precycling,’ the project demonstrates an untapped potential for the public realm: Through front-end planning for a material’s second use, much needed community buildings including schools, libraries, and housing could be constructed whenever infrastructure is deconstructed, saving valuable resources, embodied energy, and taxpayer dollars.

The strength of recycled infrastructure easily allows the integration of full-scale landscaped roof gardens.

What do we do with the massive amounts of construction waste from our ‘obsolete’ infrastructural projects? Instead of roadways, can they be re-imagined as architecture?

During the construction of any large-scale infrastructure project, temporary re-routing of traffic is necessary. In the case of the Big Dig, provisional offramps for I-93 were used for several years and dismantled, creating massive amounts of waste. The Big Dig House directly reuses the components, turning a highway into a house.

By utilizing the same techniques of building a temporary bridge, the structure of the house was erected in 23 hours as opposed to standard framing which would have taken 2-3 weeks. Other than several new bolted connections, the original components were re-used ‘as-is’ to minimize cost for extra fabrication. As the materials were slated for disposal, taxpayer dollars were returned to the state as the highway components no longer needed to be stored and demolished.
The reused highway materials are left exposed to demonstrate the way they were salvaged and reassembled.


Design proposal for an unbuilt mixed-use housing project using a structural system salvaged from the Big Dig temporary highways.


The discarded elevated highways materials can be re-used to create many different building types. Taken to the next level, a city’s infrastructure should be ‘pre-cycled’ – that is designed with the second and third uses already in mind. This way publicly owned infrastructure, instead of becoming obsolete, can be reused to create community facilities such as schools, housing, libraries, etc. 
Big Dig House
Schematic of the Big Dig House construction sequence.


Light filled and open spaces can be created with the re-used highway components because of their ability to cantilever and span long distances.


The main stair his hung with cables from the cantilevered big dig structure.


Since the walls do now have to be load bearing, large column-free open spaces and horizontal windows can be incorporated.

The structure and exterior walls are independent, allowing balconies to be freely incorporated.

The steel frame and cross-bracing are salvaged from the original support of the highway offramp.

Pulling the structure away from the facade allows for the integration of a stair to the roof garden. 


John Hong AIA, LEED AP (principal in charge)
Jinhee Park AIA (SsD), Erik Carlson, Sadmir Ovcina (design team)

Structural Engineer
Paul Pedini + Weidlinger Associates

Water Resources Engineer
Cristina Perez

Construction Manager
Paul Pedini


Resource Salvation - Big Dig House
Featured in:
Resource Salvation: The Architecture of Re-use, Mark Gorgolewski, John Wiley and Sons, 2018.