CURRENT PREOCCUPATIONS: ROTOR lectures at the AA Review

by Carolina Bettarello, MA History & Critical Thinking student at the AA School of Architecture

 

 

27 November 2016
Architectural Association

 

We live in a constant process of re-thinking and re-designing cities and environments. In architecture, the discussion of sustainability has never been more pertinent – an euphemism for urgent. The term, in a general sense, frames itself in evaluating design solutions concerned with minimising negative environmental impact: buildings are considered sustainable through their proven efficiency in the use of energy, materials, and spatial usage.

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BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Methodology) is the world’s leading sustainability assessment method for master planning projects, infrastructure, and buildings. Image credit: www.breeam.com

Even though committed and acclaimed sustainable design solutions have been presented and realised, a barrier has somehow been created, limiting this powerful vehicle within the construction field from going beyond the territory of new buildings. The new brings our attention to the future.

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THE J. CRAIG VENTER INSTITUTE; SAN DIEGO/ZGF ARCHITECTS LLP. IMAGE: NICK MERRICK, as seen on ArchDaily’s website report on The American Institute of Architects (AIA) and its Committee on the Environment (COTE) selection of the top ten sustainable architecture and ecological design projects for 2016. Photo credit: www.breeam.com

However, what happens on the reverse end of this spectrum- what is the ‘afterlife’ of existing buildings? Demolition is a current and expanding market in urban environments. Is there a possibility for action with regard to sustainability in what can be perceived as ‘the negative’ side of architecture in the taking down of existing buildings? This brings our attention away from the new to the present timeframe of ‘the now’.

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Rotor’s general definition: everything that turns around its own axes, producing rotation movements. Image credit: http://www.mekatronikmuhendisligi.com; www.rotor-and-stator.png

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ROTOR: the Belgian collective logo. Image credit: http://rotordb.org

ROTOR situates themselves within this line of questioning, as a collective with members from a range of professions who have been active since 2005 on several fronts to create architecture and design projects. Their current preoccupations include sustainable critical thinking and practical attitudes towards the deconstruction of architecture: “The symbol of sustainability does not have to be a specified one; we, as designers and architects, should push its notion; we should try to redefine it”, stated Maarten Gielen, one of the founders of ROTOR, during his recent lecture at the AA School of Architecture.

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Photo credit: http://rotordb.org

With a common interest in the material flows in the construction and industrial fields, after 10 years of research on the subject, the group of architects and designers is now pushing the notion of sustainability while redefining the boundaries for architectural practice.

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Photo credit: http://rotordb.org

ROTOR Deconstruction, as specified on their website, dismantles and sells reusable materials from quality buildings undergoing transformation or demolition. The project requires skilled people. Just like an architectural project requires many layers of detailed plans and specifications prior to the building’s construction, before dismantling a building, an inventory of the building’s available materials is made, dividing them between generic construction elements, such as doors and lighting devices, and more exceptional elements from specific buildings. Clients are then able to select, buy, and collect them, saving considerably on transport and typically 20-50% on good quality construction elements. On top of that, both ROTOR and these new forms of client are all participating positively in the development of an extremely relevant new market in today’s world.

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Photo credit: http://rotordb.org

Based in Belgium, ROTOR acts mainly in projects around its borders (France, Antwerp, The Netherlands), mainly due to cost of transportation and the restrictions generated by legislation. In Belgium, the market makes it relevant to work with materials in the deconstruction of architecture. However, as noted by Gielen, it is important to evaluate each country’s context to realise its potential for expanding the practical possibilities for sustainability in the architectural field, and consequently, allowing it to act as a catalyst for making that part of the world somewhat fairer. Gielen points out that the market of resourcing and reusing materials is still a prototype and struggles with bureaucracy and skepticism. There is a lot be done and there isn’t a bulletproof formula to follow. It takes stamina to make it happen, but it is a way forward.

 

“In the name of sustainability: please give us the key to your building that is about to be dismantled!”

 

ROTOR’s message is relevant and acts almost as a manifesto. The Belgian collective has identified a circular market where everyone wins: clients, architects, and even the city. Although the overall process is to undo what architecture has done, this is still within the creation of architecture, opening up the field for new relevant possibilities even within the afterlife of buildings – breathing new life into these elements to find them new homes or positions within new buildings.

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Photo credit: http://rotordb.org

For more information:
ROTOR Website
ROTOR Current Preoccupations Lecture Online
History and Critical Thinking MA
HCT microsite