The most sustainable building is the one that is already built: versatile and healthy spaces

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The most sustainable building is the one that is already built: versatile and healthy spaces

This once abandoned Chinese fabric factory has been renovated into a thriving cultural center by O-Office. Image © Laurian Ghinitoiu

Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection sought to explain the origin and survival of species on the planet. In short, it indicates that the fittest organism survives and can reproduce, perpetuating useful variations for each species in a given place. Adaptation is therefore a characteristic that promotes the survival of individuals in a context. In the world of construction, we could draw parallels. Could adaptation be an important quality to increase the useful life and efficiency of a building over time, given the changes and demands of society, as well as technologies and lifestyles?

Adaptable buildings have the ability to meet an evolving set of space, function and component demands, without being technically impractical or cost inefficient. The Adaptable Futures research group, at Loughborough University, is interested in studies of the adaptability and longevity of buildings, around the question: “Why some buildings last hundreds of years and others a few decades? ? Researchers address adaptability in detail, examining the complex web of dependencies that induce, prevent, and adapt to change. The work includes designing for adaptability, flexibility and adaptive reuse of our inventory of buildings and urban spaces.

FRAC Dunkirk / Lacaton & Vassal.  Image © Laurian Ghinitoiu
FRAC Dunkirk / Lacaton & Vassal. Image © Laurian Ghinitoiu
Castello di Rivoli / Andrea Bruno (Renovation).  Image © Laurian Ghinitoiu
Castello di Rivoli / Andrea Bruno (Renovation). Image © Laurian Ghinitoiu

Reusing a pre-existing building for new activities has become known as adaptive reuse. The practice has been widely adopted in recent years as a strategy to manage spaces in a more economical, sustainable, practical and efficient way. As adaptive reuse avoids the expenses associated with demolitions and new constructions, it presents itself as a solution capable of meeting urgent demands, such as social, cultural and housing uses. In addition to being an economic choice, carrying out such an intervention is also a conscious choice to preserve the memory associated with the building and the urban and social fabric already present. The transformation of potential places offers gains that go beyond physical results: they preserve memory across the different layers of time, which can coexist in the same place.

Barberí Laboratory (2008) / RCR Arquitectes.  Image © Hizao Suzuki
Barberí Laboratory (2008) / RCR Arquitectes. Image © Hizao Suzuki

Indeed, it is a consistent concern as the world faces an ecological and climate crisis, as well as a scarcity of natural resources. Urban areas have faced problems with their large built stock, related to the poor use of buildings and the high energy consumption of current properties. To solve this problem, many demolitions and reconstructions are taking place, even in perfectly healthy buildings, generating huge amounts of waste, which rarely ends up being reused or recycled.

“The most sustainable building is the one that is already built”. This statement was made by the architect Carl Elefante, and was taken up in this article produced in collaboration with the readers of the site. There, concerns are raised about the real function of architecture in a world that is changing so much. Should the spaces be neutral, like large sheds that can be used for any purpose? Should furniture and flexible elements play a leading role in the optimal organization of spaces for certain uses? A living example is the COVID-19 pandemic, where the house had to take on multiple functions, such as work, leisure, study, sport, etc. Additionally, the spread of the virus has raised additional concerns about indoor air quality and antimicrobial technologies. which were previously dedicated to health spaces.

This once abandoned Chinese fabric factory has been renovated into a thriving cultural center by O-Office.  Image © Laurian Ghinitoiu
This once abandoned Chinese fabric factory has been renovated into a thriving cultural center by O-Office. Image © Laurian Ghinitoiu

Fortunately, there are already several products available on the market that make it easy to divide an open space into partitioned uses more suited to different programmatic demands. One immediately thinks of drywall, making it possible to create partitions with thermal and acoustic insulation, easily removable and recyclable, in a few hours. There are also even lighter solutions. Placo® Modulo is made up of light partitions, mobile or fixed, which allow spaces to respond to new needs and new ways of working. Mainly intended for the tertiary market, the product offers great versatility and makes it possible to create or rearrange a space, separate rooms, delimit a circulation area or create modular sections, thanks to opaque or translucent panels with sober finishes. When you’re trying to both maintain the transparency of a space while having a much-needed sense of privacy, there are products that can make it happen. Priva-Lite®, for example, is a smart glass that instantly changes from transparent to translucent at the flick of a switch.

Placo® Modulo.  Image
Placo® Modulo. Image
Placo® Modulo.  Image
Placo® Modulo. Image

Indeed, special attention must be paid to the interiors of the projects, because 90% of our time is spent indoors. It is essential to ensure a comfortable, productive and healthy indoor environmental quality, by following well-regulated design parameters and practices that take into account temperature, lighting, noise pollution, adequate ventilation and the quality of the air we breathe. The latter is all the more important since, contrary to what one might think, air pollution is much greater indoors than outdoors. Novelio® Classic CleanAir is a range of paintable fiberglass wallcoverings that improve the air quality of spaces by removing formaldehyde. This organic component – released mainly by laminated furniture, new floors and certain paints or glues – is trapped in the wallpaper and is not released into the air, and the principle remains active even after several coats of paint. In addition, they are impact and fire resistant, durable and decorative coatings.

Novelio® Classic CleanAir.  Image
Novelio® Classic CleanAir. Image

In addition to these options, several other products and technologies have been developed to increase the flexibility of spaces and buildings, while maintaining quality, durability and safety. Buildings should be adaptable and should allow them to adapt easily to change, but taking into account the components of their interior is also essential to improve the quality of life inside, as well as to save precious natural resources. and economic.

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