Rethinking material flow
in architecture

The building industry is ranging among the most resource and energy consuming sectors worldwide. Therefor it’s time to rethink architectural practices and to have a look at new approaches from re-using buildings to a circular material flow.

We are used to recycle PET-bottles, to refurbish old bicycles or cars, to restore electronic devices in repair shops, but how about re-using buildings and their materials?

Materialnomaden [ :material nomads ] is an initiative of architects, civil engineers and urbanists that specialized on re-using parts from abandoned buildings. At the occasion of the urbanize festival 2019 in Vienna they opened their doors to the public and to their unique premises, a former Siemens industrial site near the Viennese Hauptbahnhof.
Part of their daily work is to scout buildings, to make deals with proprietors and to showcase materials on their platform, the first step for giving them a successful afterlife. In addition they carry out own consulting and architectural projects all with their one of a kind re-use charm.

The time is now to think differently. The building industry is said to use 1/5th of the overall consumed resources and energy worldwide and most of the buildings have a severe ecological footprint most of it due to construction itself.

Regaining materials out of abandoned buildings is probably just the beginning and maybe an important initial step towards awareness and re-thinking of architecture as a whole. Hopefully leading to buildings that are planned from the start as part of a circular system and circular material flow. Some examples of a successful implementation already exist, one of them is a unique wooden construction for a bank’s headquarter designed by RAU Architects in the Netherlands. The whole structure of the office building can be dismantled, using wood beams and screws instead of rigid material connections as concrete and steel.

An even more radical approach had been developed by AI Spacefactory a US architecture firm closely cooperating with NASA, that makes use of local materials in a newly developed 3D-printing method (largely known for their concept of mars colonization habitats). However they also use their knowledge of taking on-site materials and advanced fabrication methods to come up with an earthian habitat called “TERA“. It’s architectural structure is said to be completely sourced-locally and is supposed to be fully compostable.

New ways of re-using old building parts, advanced fabrication methods and buildings that are fully circular are important steps towards a future-oriented architecture.

However at the end one should keep in mind that increasing the lifetime of a building is probably the most resource-efficient way of all, referring to the big variety of examples in historic architecture that once were built to last 200, 500 years or even beyond.