Today, the half-life of buildings is decreasing rapidly. When their function changes, they are often simply replaced. However, criticism of this spatial throwaway culture is growing. An ever-increasing number of architects are once again investigating structures’ potential for transformation and, in their reinterpretation, discovering scope for experimentation. To address this topic, the S AM Swiss Architecture Museum is presenting the exhibition “Transform” from the 29th of September to the 4th of November 2018.
September 9 – November 4, 2018
S AM Swiss Architecture Museum
Steinenberg 7, 4001 Basel
What all these projects have in common is that the investigative process is not just the initiator, but an essential component, of the transformation. To explore the topic in more depth, S AM is holding two events: the symposium “RE.Architecture” (29/9/2018, 1-5 pm, Zentrale Pratteln) with five young European architectural offices putting their transformative approaches up for discussion, plus a talk with Anne Lacaton, architect, and Bernard Blanc, general director of housing construction authority Aquitanis, on the second life of high-density housing complexes in Bordeaux.
From the 29th of September to the 4th of November 2018, the S AM Swiss Architecture Museum presents the exhibition “Transform”, on the reinterpretation of existing structures. Over millennia, architecture has embodied the notion of continual change. Most buildings from architectural history no longer exist today in their original form because they have been relentlessly transformed over time. In this way, they have been able to outlast epochs and to fulfil changing functions, for which they were not originally planned. Thus, palaces have become residential buildings, churches have become indoor swimming pools and coliseums have become entire urban districts. From antiquity to the middle ages, through to the modern era, examples from all around the world bear witness to this self-evident transformation of structures.
Demolition – new construction: the tabula rasa method Modernism put an end to this tradition: The old city was seen as obsolete. Only demolition and radical new construction could provide space for the city of tomorrow. The architectural tabula rasa became the driving force for entire generations. The destruction caused by the Second World War gave them the necessary legitimisation. Although the oil crisis did slightly slow the trend, the half-life of architecture has been rapidly decreasing for decades. It is becoming more and more common for a building to be simply torn down and replaced with a new one whenever its function or ownership structure changes. This not only places problematic additional burdens on the environment and the economy, but also causes serious loss of identity in evolved spatial structures.
SPATIAL THROWAWAY CULTURE PUT TO THE TEST
However, criticism of this spatial throwaway culture is growing appreciably. An ever-increasing number of architects are once again investigating buildings’ transformability. In their spatial and functional reinterpretation, they are discovering very distinct scope for experimentation because transformation can take on very different forms. There are no defined paths, no identical starting points and, in many cases, no clear basis in the building regulations either, so the approach that conversion requires architects to take is often completely different to that required for new construction.
THE INVESTIGATIVE PROCESS AS AN ESSENTIAL COMPONENT OF TRANSFORMATION
From a diverse range of very different projects, three independent positions have been selected. What they all have in common is that the investigative process is not just the initiator, but an essential component, of the transformation. The firm agps has used a former stable’s conversion into a temporary home as fundamental research on a different economy of construction, not only working with agricultural materials diverted from their intended purposes, for example, but also striving to ensure that these are as cheap as possible. The result is a project between pragmatism and the fascination with simple solutions. A similar approach has also been chosen by Anne Lacaton, Jean-Philippe Vassal, Frédéric Druot and Christophe Hutin for the transformation of social housing in various high-density housing complexes in France. Their architectural measures comprise simple standardised building elements.
They defined the underlying methodology of their interventions beforehand in a detailed study, in which the architects demonstrated not only the economic absurdity of a demolition, but also the ecological and thermal advantages of their conversion. As the third and final position, Baubüro in situ and ZHAW students have completely devoted themselves to research, salvaging construction material before demolition and designing something new with it. In their project for “Halle 118” in Winterthur, they have clearly shown that architecture must be changeable and flexible, today more than ever.