Rubbish Architects

earthrise goes to Rotterdam to meet a group of Dutch architects making stylish buildings from waste materials.

The construction industry is a big polluter. While there are rapidly developing trends in ‘green’ design and architecture, building materials and transportation still leave a huge carbon footprint. Worldwide, construction makes up about a third of CO2 emissions. Steel and cement production are the main offenders, with the iron and steel industry accounting for four per cent, cement for five per cent of global man-made greenhouse gas emissions.

A group of forward-thinking architects at the Rotterdam-based company 2012architecten have come up with an alternative way of looking at construction. They create buildings and other structures made almost entirely from reclaimed and recycled materials. All their work is based on the idea that design should not follow a linear process, but is much rather part of a continuous cycle of creation and recreation, use and reuse. The focus is very much on local sourcing, to reduce the need for emissions-heavy transportation as much as possible. This innovative and eco-friendly concept, which underpins all their work, is called “superuse”, or “recyclicity”.

At the core of their planning, 2012architecten develop so-called “harvest maps” for each project, which they use to source possible potentially useful waste materials from old buildings and sites in the local area. This does not just help businesses deal with the problem of unwanted waste, but also significantly reduces transport and fuel costs.

There are no limits to the model. The architects have designed everything from single homes to offices, playgrounds and cafes. Waste materials have included parts from decommissioned aeroplanes, washing machines, tyres and billboards.

Russell Beard visits the architects at their Rotterdam headquarters to help them salvage building materials from a hospital, which will be used in a nearby arts centre. He also takes a tour of 2012architecten’s flagship project, Villa Welpeloo, a state-of-the-art house which makes use of waste materials ranging from old billboards to broken umbrellas. The steel structure was harvested from the disused machinery of a nearby textile mill, and the wooden cladding is made from 600 dismantled cable reels. Reused materials account for 60 per cent of the structure, and up to 90 per cent of the interior – hugely reducing the project’s carbon footprint. Russell meets the villa’s owners, who made a leap of faith by giving 2012architecten a free reign with the design, and are delighted with their unorthodox but undeniably stylish home.


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