Young Architects Apply Deconstruction and Reuse to Commercial Buildings

By Ted Reiff

While TRP has successfully expanded the practice of deconstruction across the entire spectrum of residential construction, we have had little impact on the commercial world. I've done some research in the area, and TRP has completed a few light commercial projects, but I still struggle with the logistical and technical aspects of developing the commercial sector.

Thankfully, my optimism concerning commercial deconstruction got a dramatic boost in April when I had the pleasure of speaking at a symposium at the School of Architecture and the Built Environment, one of several technical schools within the Technical University at Delft (TUDelft), The Netherlands.

The symposium, entitled "De-construction," was sponsored by RotorDC ( a Brussels organization specializing in architectural and commercial deconstruction and consulting. Rotor principals Maarten Gielen and Lionel Devlieger, are visiting professors at the school. (I've known both of them since 2008, when Rotor received an honorable mention for its entry in the first annual TRP reuse contest.) Other speakers at the symposium included professors and practitioners of architecture from United Kingdom, Spain, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Switzerland and The Netherlands.

The symposium was open to anyone, and kicked off a 10-week deconstruction "studio," conducted by Rotor for first-year students in the Masters of Architecture Program. It's a course of study that focuses on deconstructing modernist and contemporary buildings slated for removal and reusing the components in redesign assignments. The students work in teams that are reconstituted for each building. Thirteen women and three men are registered for the studio — from Vietnam, Thailand, Sweden, China, South Africa, UK, Poland and The Netherlands.

According to Devlieger, "...Three case studies will be investigated. Students will be challenged to rethink architectural design and history from the question of re-use in the broadest sense."

As part of the studio, the students attend archive seminars at Het Nieuwe Instituut (www.HetNieuweInstituut) in Rotterdam, where they are encouraged to think of buildings constructed of reused materials as repositories of not only materials, but also knowledge and past practices that might have application to present-day systems.

Students research, analyze and review salvageable and reusable components from three buildings:

  1. Timmerhuis in Rotterdam by OMA/Reinier de Graaf (2013).
  2. Youth Hostel Ockenburgh in The Hague by Frank van Klingeren (1971).
  3. Ministry of Social Affairs in The Hague by Herman Hertzberger (1979).

Assignments differ for each building and include 1) the development of objective modes of determining/representing the reuse value of building components, 2) creation of a 3D model representing the reuse/reassembly of structural steel from a previously deconstructed modular building, and 3) an evaluation of the economic feasibility of extracting the interior components from a 645,600 square-foot building slated for partial demolition and redevelopment.

What's my takeaway from the symposium? I'm newly enthused and energized about the possibility of commercial deconstruction on this side of the Atlantic. And I'm convinced that we must directly involve young professionals in all aspects of building-materials reuse. I've suggested to Gielen and Devlieger that we collaborate on an initiative that joins RotorDC's technical skills and background in commercial deconstruction with TRP's residential footprint in the U.S. Think of it as a gateway to the future!

Location and Contact Information

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Boise, ID 83702
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Roaring Fork Valley Habitat for Humanity
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