The international architecture office Superuse considers design not as a linear, but circular process of use and re-use. It focuses on the latent properties of used materials and how these offer an added value to new products and buildings. Their work is based on the Blue Economy, a holistic view of nature, mankind and economy with the aim of no longer producing waste, but rather returning everything to the material cycle. For advocates of this principle, Superuse are currently transforming a former adventure pool in Rotterdam into the BlueCity office centre, where they also work themselves.
Jos de Krieger is one of the partners of Superuse and has been working on the reuse of materials for almost 15 years. He was creative director for Festa and speaker at TedX in Christchurch in 2016. Currently he is a research mentor for TU Delft graduate students at the Faculty of Architecture. Maximilian Liesner spoke with him.
Rather than implementing a design from your vision, Superuse’s approach is, like you put it, to “listen to the material“ you have at your disposal. What is it that material can tell?
Usually, a lot of shape will come from surroundings and concepts. Of course, we also do that to create a functional space. But all the material that you will find will have a given colour and a given size. All these aspects of the material will help to shape the design. So if you listen to, let’s say, a window frame correctly, it is, for example, one by two meters. That will, in some ways, dictate the construction that you are going to make. And an aluminium window frame will be different from a wooden or a plastic one. In a traditional design process, a lot of labour and energy is being invested into making a material do what the architects want. But if you listen to all its characteristics, you do not have to force it to become something that it is not.
In the final building, you expose the re-used material quite radically.
Not necessarily. In some of our projects, there is a material re-use that you do not see at all. It really depends on the project. For example, if you look at the Villa Welpeloo in Enschede, almost 90 percent of the steel construction is re-used from a textile machine, but you only see roughly five percent. All the rest is hidden and it does not matter for us or for the building to show the steel. In this case, it is just a functional object. Most of the materials in Villa Welpeloo are not easily detectible as being from a waste source.