AUTHOR: Madlen Kobi
CONTEXT: Seminar Fall Semester 2018, Accademia di Architettura, Mendrisio
KEYWORDS: architecture, building materials, reuse, material culture, cross-cultural comparison
This seminar inquires from a theoretical and cross-cultural perspective into the diverse motives and contexts where building materials are being reused in architecture. Construction materials move between rural and urban, between local and regional as well as between old and new houses. An analysis of these spatial networks provides site-specific insights into the relationships between builders, techniques, materials and objects. In times of resource shortage and environmental crisis, architects have to take seriously their role in minimizing the ecological footprint. At the same time, the social and architectural motivations and objectives why building materials are being reused go beyond ecological considerations. Reusing materials often emerges along with a careful consideration of local building techniques. It further has implications on the design practice where the available materials are the starting point.
After discussing economic, ecological, social and historical values involved in the reuse of materials, the seminar engages with contemporary reuse practices in different geographical contexts such as Switzerland, Austria, China and the US. We will inquire into how the “waste” value of demolition materials transforms into a valuable resource for its users. Among others, the seminar offers diverse perspectives on the reuse of materials based on different case studies, theoretical writings and socio-cultural contexts. Reuse can be framed as
1) An ecological practice to minimize waste;
2) A method to emphasize engagement with local history and preservation of cultural heritage;
3) A revival of old building techniques (such as wa pan in China);
4) A survival strategy for poor populations (such as urban mining on demolition sites or reuse of materials for suburban slum housing);
5) A consumption critique (such as in the construction of earthships);
6) A practice of bricolage (Lévi-Strauss) creating new objects with existing materials rather than an engineering practice that often starts from an end goal and then searches for the necessary materials to achieve it.
The main objective of this cross-cultural engagement with the reuse of building materials is to conceptualize houses not as objects per se, but as assemblages of different materials with their own (hi)stories and values depending on the actors reusing them.