"Re-use gives a room a special identity"
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As part of the circular construction industry, reuse is changing planning, but also aesthetics. Anja Gillies and Maria Groß, heads of interdisciplinary spatial design at Konrad Knoblauch, explain why reuse is nothing new – and what the advantages are.

Re-use already existed in ancient times

Re-use is a trend. A new phenomenon?

Maria: Absolutely not. If you look back at the entire history of construction, you can see that materials and components have always been reused. This goes back to ancient times. Building materials were always expensive and in short supply, so people made sure to reuse resources when building. This went as far as capturing architectural design elements during military campaigns and displaying them in their own triumphal buildings to demonstrate their power.

Anja: This is known as spolia. They can come from an older culture or from another culture. A famous example is the Arch of Constantine in Rome, for which old columns and reliefs from several Roman emperors were used. Re-use has therefore always existed: in antiquity, in the Middle Ages, in the Renaissance – right up to the present day. A contemporary example with a spolia is the State Council building in Berlin, where the sober GDR façade was planned around the portal of the former Berlin Palace.

Have we forgotten about re-use?

Anja: Yes, definitely. With the invention of concrete and the economic boom in the 1950s, there was a boom in new construction that completely pushed reuse into the background and made us forget how valuable reuse actually is. Basically, you have to keep in mind the value of an existing building. One of the greatest added values is always its history.

Der Neubauboom ist vorbei

But renovating an existing building is much more expensive and time-consuming, isn’t it?

Anja: No, not in most cases. Nevertheless, you always have to look at each project individually. It’s a completely different approach at first, because you don’t have this infinite creative freedom. But in return, you get a lot in return – in terms of materiality and history: then we talk about “adaptive re-use”.

Maria: There are projects realized around the world that show that the conversion of existing buildings works exceptionally well: A very well-known example is the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg, the base of which is the old Kaiserspeicher. In Offenburg, a former prison was converted into a luxury hotel: Dealing with the history of the location is elementary here and makes the spatial experience unique.

Anja: Unfortunately, not all buildings are suitable for “adaptive re-use”. Nevertheless, buildings can still be used as material storage. This is known as “urban mining”.

Urban mining!

So re-use already plays a role in the planning?

Anja: Yes, definitely. Re-use is multifaceted. A wide variety of components are now offered for sale and purchase on numerous platforms, such as real old wood, historic doors, tiles, door handles – in fact, almost everything. This means that demolition is no longer an option if you recognize the monetary value of old buildings. Sustainability in terms of the circular economy almost becomes a positive side effect.

Maria: That’s why it’s important to pay attention to purity in future projects. This is the only way to ensure sustainable, simple reuse. Then, contrary to some concerns, re-use doesn’t look like “second hand”. In future, the focus will be on planning and detail. What we need for this is a new understanding of design and aesthetics. We all need to rethink together.

Small lexicon:

Re-use: is the re-use of building materials, components and buildings. In the sense of the circular economy and the associated zero waste principle with the 5 R’s (Refuse, Reduce, Re-Use, Recycle, Rot), these are kept in the cycle for as long as possible through reuse.

Adaptive Re-Use: Is the reuse of a building for a purpose other than that for which it was originally built.

Urban Mining: Considers the city and its buildings as a raw material store for new construction projects.

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