Heritage and durability
Change of use is becoming a key area of focus for architects

A commentary by
Anh-Linh Ngo
When the German contribution to the Architecture Biennial 2012 "Reduce/Reuse/Recycle" was presented within the framework of the "ARCH+ features" discussion series initiated by Siedle, Munich-based architect and General Commissioner of the German Pavilion Muck Petzet described the intention behind the contribution in the following terms: "Creating awareness for the existing building stock and infrastructure as the central architectural resource for designing our future."

In this endeavour he represents a viewpoint which defines architecture and the city as an "energy" resource. What energy is, however, is something we see much more broadly. On the one hand this refers to the physical aspects, in other words the "grey energy" stored in the developed environment. "But", according to Petzet, "in addition to the physical and economic components, the value of a building also results from immaterial aspects, such as the social context it's a part of, the history that the existing conveys or the feelings that it triggers". He uses this cultural appreciation of sustainability not only to counter the technical sidelining of the sustainability debate but also to leave the conservation approach to monument preservation behind him.

Also featured at the exhibition was the Brunnenstraße project from Berlin-based architect Arno Brandlhuber, who created an internationally acclaimed work from the ruins of a bad building investment. Brandlhuber, who is among the leading lights of the post-Stimmann era with his urban policy interventions in Berlin, pursues the arguments put forward by Muck Petzet with his latest project, the Antivilla.

For Brandlhuber, the error in reasoning when it comes to energy-related renovation is that "the expended energy needed for things like insulating material manufacture or transport are left out of the calculation. In addition, the Energy Saving Ordinance assumes that the entire building as an internal space is used as a warm building, irrespective of the time of year, and consequently defined standard room temperatures prevail". Instead of using the conventional insulating layers which imply a standardized internal space and uniform usage, layers of curtains divide the large living space into individual zones of differing temperature in winter. This decision results in a situation where "actual usage behaviour has to adjust to the climatic situation, rather than the assumption that the situation imposes a generally applicable standard".
This insight is becoming ever more relevant, because "the main area of focus for the architects of today and of the future will not be in creating new buildings, but in changes of use", says Brandlhuber. "As there is so much grey energy bound up in the existing building stock, change of use strategies which link the energy aspect with social considerations will be particularly decisive for the future of architecture." Construction within the existing building stock will thus gain a new socio-political dimension which provides a shield against misconceived traditionalism, and assigns a whole new progressive and social significance to preservation and durability.

Muck Petzet also envisages enormous creative potential in this confrontation with the existing: "This continuation yields density and deeper layers, a friction that can enrich the existing." For designer Konstantin Crcic, who designed the German Pavilion together with Muck Petzet, also significant is the approach "that in this form of design the point is not to keep reinventing things, but to cultivate and further develop the qualities of what already exists and things that already work."

Crcic took the debate beyond the merely architectural to formulate an approach to design which is becoming ever more relevant to companies such as Siedle against the backdrop of headlong technological progress: When the latest developments become passé tomorrow, then design must take greater account of life cycles, in other words, the compatibility and retrofittability of individual products and their service life. In this way, product development will become an evolutionary process, and the sustainability of a design and its technology will become integral to the self-conception of the design.

About the author
The architect Anh-Linh Ngo is editor of the international architecture magazine ARCH+. He is co-initiator and co-curator of various exhibition, research and event projects within the context of topical architectural issues, including the participation of ARCH+ in documenta 12 magazines and the implementation of the ARCH+ "Threshold Atlas", which was produced in cooperation with ETH Zurich.
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