Recycling Buildings With New Technology

Recycling and repurposing in architecture is not a new phenomenon by any stretch of the imagination. Throughout history, significant monuments such as palaces, temples, and libraries have been carefully maintained and reused. Buildings such as Hagia Sophia in Turkey or the palaces of Alhambra in southern Spain have seen massive cultural shifts. Yet, due to constant restoration, adaptation, and care, they have never ceased to provide for their inhabitants. This practice has rarely been extended to less significant buildings for several reasons surrounding the complexity and high cost of doing so.

We are currently experiencing the negative effects of mass production and consumerism. The scope of this trend ranges from fast food to fast architecture and everything in between. We need to think differently about how we approach the built environment today. Concrete, steel, and aluminum account for 23% of global emissions. The majority of that is used in new construction. Demolition should be strategic, repurposing architecture, and materials, and reducing embodied energy. The leading impediment to this has been budgetary, specifically concerning the time and labor required. But, we live in the digital age, and as a result, there are a lot of new tools that can help us to reduce the carbon footprint of the construction industry.

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The cutting-edge technologies that are being used in architecture may allow us to achieve goals in renovation and adaptive reuse that were not viable until now. Current advancements have the potential to end the eclipse of finance over recycling buildings. This cost factor often leads to demolition and new construction rather than repurposing existing architecture. If we can learn more about these technologies and increase the cross-pollination between disciplines, there will be a shift towards mass customization. You will see it for yourself as we explore the use of these technologies in the following paragraphs.

Corbera D’Ebre, Architect Ferran Vizoso

The Benefits of Recycling Architecture:

Why is it important to recycle buildings? Every single element and material that constitutes a building has a story. Even the location of the manufacturer of a single nail has a much wider impact than we generally consider. To understand more about the detailed factors and their ‘domino’ effect on the environment, have a look at this article.

The benefits of recycling or adapting an existing building are broad and concrete. After referring to the link above I am sure these are clear, however, there is one very important term that often comes up: embodied energy. This phrase encompasses the carbon footprint of every material you use from the raw material extraction to the end of its life. Understanding this principle is a vital responsibility for architects and designers today.

Governments are becoming more aware of the complexity of monitoring these factors in the design process. This becomes even more difficult throughout the construction process. It is a situation that requires constant evaluation. Fortunately, there are more and more incentives that provide support for projects that use these methods. To find out more about this, take a look at our previous blog article here discussing the Revive program in Portugal.

The Technology That Can Help:

The problem is clear. 

Innovative strategies and incentives do exist, but how is technology going to provide the solution?

The answer comes down to computational power and the digital tools that get progressively smaller and cheaper every year. The most complex part of a renovation or adaptive reuse is the information gathering and translation. This task required teams of people with lasers and measuring tapes surveying every millimeter of the building. Any slight errors tend to multiply, creating huge costs down the line when new or prefabricated elements do not align with the existing structure.

The Church of St Martin, Foretić Architects

With the cutting-edge tools available to us, one person can map and translate the existing building into a 3D model by simply scanning it. They can then use that 3D model to gather all measurements and data for both design and construction. There are a few preferred ways of doing this that make use of some, or all of the tools listed below. Follow the link embedded in each title to find out more:

These technologies are revolutionizing the design process and enabling us to reuse buildings. To learn more about how they can be used in your project, stay updated for our next blog post about integrating these technologies into your workflow.

Case Studies:

Now that we have a basic understanding of the capabilities of the tools, let’s take a look at a few renovation projects that have applied them.

This project by MAP Architects in Denmark transforms medieval ruins in a delicate way that respects the passage of time and affirms its presence in the modern context. The team started by scanning the existing brick structure to produce a 3D model. The detail produced by the scan allowed them to identify four particular points to anchor their intervention.  

This experimental house within a house is called Unser S(ch)austall by Naumann Architektur. It is a clever strategy to extend the life of a small ruin. The existing structure is left unchanged by the modern intervention, which has been prefabricated and inserted. A workflow that incorporates the tools discussed in this article would speed up the design and build process for a project like this.

Built inside of the 17th-century ruins of an old paper factory, the Parchment Works house is a celebration of the existing ruin. For Architect Will Gamble, this project is a celebration of the existing. By recycling the ruin and upcycling the materials such as steel and brick, the original textures are preserved. Both of these strategies are not only conceptually appealing but they reduce the carbon footprint of a project.

So, What does this mean for the building industry?

The past three industrial revolutions have been geared towards mass production in order to meet growing demands. This was limited by our technological capability. The outcome was the production of identical items across the board to minimize costs.  As our technological capabilities have developed there has been a shift in the variety of items. There is a trend towards more unique and customizable products that are still affordable. 

This is mirrored in the field of architecture, with the rise of movements such as Parametric Design. Parametric Design is dependent on new technology and advanced computational power to achieve complex concepts. The incredible designs that technology enables is great, nonetheless, it casts a shadow on the other important issues that can be solved by using the same tools. In this specific case, the question is: how can we recycle and reuse the vast number of existing structures at a minimal environmental cost? 

It is still considered a waste of money to renovate or adapt many building typologies. However, the available technologies that we have investigated in this in this article are making the renovation process as easy as ever. Our strategies should reflect the capabilities of these tools and our environment. This will create a shift in the way that we approach projects. It is incredible to see these innovative methods to improve what is already existing, and it is imperative that more practitioners follow suit.

Written by Keesje Avis

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