NOTnestled like a red question mark in the hills of rural Japan, the Kamikatsu Zero Waste Center is a recycling facility like no other. A heavy frame of unprocessed cedar logs from the nearby forest supports a long, winding canopy, sheltering walls made up of a patchwork of 700 old windows and doors, salvaged from village buildings. Inside, rows of crates of shiitake mushrooms donated by a local farm serve as shelves, while the floors are covered in poured terrazzo made from broken pottery, used floor tiles and scraps of recycled glass, forming a polished nougat of waste.
It’s a fitting form for what is somewhat of a recycling temple. In 2003, Kamikatsu became the first place in Japan to adopt a zero waste declaration, after the municipality was forced to shut down its polluting waste incinerator. Since then, the isolated village (with a population of 1,500, an hour’s drive from the nearest town) has become an unlikely leader in the battle against burial and cremation. Residents now sort their waste into 45 different categories – separating white paper from newspapers, aluminum-coated paper from cardboard tubes and bottles from their caps – leading to an 80% recycling rate, compared to a national average of 20% in Japan. Villagers typically visit the center once or twice a week, which has been designed with public spaces and meeting rooms, making it a social center for the scattered town. He even has his own recycling-themed boutique hotel, called WHY – which might just be your first response when someone suggests you stay next to a rubbish dump.
“The shape of the question mark can only be perceived from high in the sky”, explains the architect of the building, Hiroshi Nakamura. “But we inspire our hope that this city will challenge our ways of life on a global scale and that out-of-town visitors will begin to question aspects of their way of life after returning home.”
The project is one of the many poetic places presented in Building for change, a new book on the architecture of creative reuse. Written by architect and teacher Ruth Lang, it encompasses a global sweep of recent projects that make the most of what already exists, whether bringing old-fashioned structures to life, creating new buildings from of salvaged components or to design with an eventual dismantling in mind. The moment couldn’t be more urgent. As Lang notes, 80% of the buildings that are expected to exist in 2050, the year of the UN’s net zero carbon emissions goal, have already been built. The key responsibility of architects and developers is therefore to modernise, reuse and re-imagine our existing building stock, using the ’embodied carbon’ that has already been spent, rather than contributing to escalating emissions with further demolitions. and new constructions.
While the urgency of the matter has occupied the industry for some time – the Architects’ Journal is leading the way with its RetroFirst campaign – the topic recently made national headlines when Michael Gove, then Communities Secretary, ordered a public inquiry into the planned demolition of the 1929 Marks & Spencer flagship store on Oxford Street. While heritage conservation would once have been the main reason to keep such a building, the preservation of the planet is now at the center of attention. Activists argue the development proposals would release 40,000 tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere, while low-carbon ‘deep renovation’ is entirely possible. They cite examples such as former Debenhams in Manchester, a 1930s building currently being renovated and expanded. To put the scale of emissions into context, Westminster City Council is currently spending £13m to retrofit all of its buildings, to save 1,700 tonnes of carbon each year; the M&S demolition proposal alone would effectively undo 23 years of council carbon savings.
Retailer bosses would do well to leaf through Lang’s book for inspiration and to see how creative reuse is not only crucial for the planet, but can be even more alluring than the promise of shiny new construction. In addition to office and retail renovations, projects include a rusty steel factory in shanghai is reborn as a striking exhibition centera water tower in Norfolk that has been cleverly transformed into a scenic house in the cloudsand a community center for children in a former warehousecomplemented by a dizzying new landscape that undulates around the building.
Strategies presented range from ad-hoc to forensic planning. A German architect, Arno Brandlhuber, invited friends to dig holes in the concrete walls of a former underwear factory near Potsdam using a hammer, to create the windows of his gritty new weekend home wherever they want. In Barcelona, meanwhile, architects Flores & Prats spent three months meticulously cataloging every door frame, mosaic and wall molding of a 1920s worker co-op, creating an inventory of components to reuse in their conversion of the building. in theatre. The duo compares their process to the alteration of second-hand clothes: “You have to unstitch and thus recognize the pattern used before, cut on one side to add another,” they write. “We may have to sew pockets, and so on, until the garment responds and identifies with the new user.” It’s an exercise, they add, that “takes trust and time until you feel it as your own.”
The resulting Sala Beckett is a haunting place, encrusted with traces of his past lives, creating a series of richly layered spaces that would have been impossible to create from scratch. It’s brimming with one of the major freebies of renovation that so many new buildings struggle to evoke: character. Over the years, the cooperative has hosted shops, a café, a cinema and a gym, and the echoes of these functions are preserved in a kind of DIY of fragments.
The 44 doors and 35 windows salvaged from the project were carefully restored, repainted and moved to different rooms, arranged in enlarged openings and in new combinations, “as if choreographed in a dance around the new building”, writes Lang. The architects call their approach “situational architecture”, allowing the space to surprise and guide its development, suggesting alternative uses and evolving into its new form. While other architects had proposed demolishing the building and starting from scratch, Flores & Prats saw the social value of maintaining the structure, beyond just the environmental benefits. “You inherit it,” Ricard Flores said in an interview, “you use it because you like what you see and you think there’s a treasure there. And not just in terms of the qualities The social heritage was as important as the physical heritage.
Similar principles guide the approach of French couple Lacaton & Vassal, the Pritzker Prize-winning architects who work under the rallying cry: “Never demolish, never remove or replace, always add, transform and reuse!” Their rehabilitation of post-war housing blocks in Paris and Bordeaux set a new milestone in low-energy renovation, improving the thermal performance of buildings while, above all, allowing existing inhabitants to live there Works.
From social housing to art centers, the pair always begins with a meticulous inventory of the existing fabric, wondering how to improve it with the minimum of means. In the early 2000s, when the French state allocated €167,000 for the demolition and reconstruction of each apartment, they argued that it was possible to redesign, expand and modernize three apartments of the same size to this amount. They proved it by working with Frédéric Druot transform the Bois-le-Prêtre Tower from the 1960s, by removing the old precast concrete revetment and enveloping the apartments in a three-metre-deep layer of winter gardens, providing additional amenity space and a thermal buffer to the living areas. As Anne Lacaton says: “Demolition is an easy and short-lived decision. It’s a waste of many things – a waste of energy, a waste of material, and a waste of history. Moreover, it has a very negative social impact. For us, it is an act of violence.
It’s a light philosophy that can also be found in the work of the London studio DK-CM, especially in their master plan for the Harrow Arts Center, set in a Victorian school campus, which features in the book. Rather than decant existing uses into temporary structures at great expense, to allow for the creation of new art installations, the architects carefully re-orchestrated the site and developed a phased approach over six years. Architectural decisions were made based on how they would reduce overhead and minimize the environmental impact of construction and future maintenance, with a program of strategic repairs and light insertions – a design process” more in common with surgery than with construction,” says Lang.
The retention and reuse dynamic continues. No longer seen as the last resort of economic necessity or a marginal ecological pursuit, renovation has become the desirable choice for progressive customers. This month, the London School of Economics revealed the winner of its latest international competition, for a £120million addition to its campus. After a recent series of gargantuan constructions of brick, glass, steel and concrete, designed by a list of star architects, the LSE named David Chipperfield precisely because he proposed to retain as much of the existing 1902 building on the site as possible. Retention should be seen “not as an obligation,” Chipperfield said, “but as a commitment to a more resourceful and responsible approach to our future, based on intelligent use of existing material and cultural capital.” Will M&S take notice and reconsider its carbon-intensive plans?