Focusing on a concrete high-rise located in Kendall Square of the Massachussett’s Institute of Technology (MIT)’s campus in Cambridge, MA, the third group’s intervention was done with student housing in mind, aiming to create a highly-personalisable, yet private space for shorter-term residents.
Constructed in 1966, the building was declared to have reached the end of its life by 2020, meaning that it would be more profitable to demolish the building so to create greater rental space. As an alternative to this demolition, the third group proposed another reuse option that would better connect the building to the larger context of Boston. Identifying available materials that could be rescued from Boston’s waste output, such as calcium from nearby seafood industries and wood from Hemlock trees, the intervention offered to first strip the internal partition to reveal the structural elements, followed by the creation of external terraces supported by a communal level occupied with supporting trusses. In doing so, the existing grid would be thus perforated to foster connections between neighbours and with nature.
Through this transformation, the third group aimed to involve the community while also reflecting on the concept of extraction—and, namely, what’s reasonable to extract—through the creation of a unique participatory decision-making tool: a board game with which the community would be invited to join in the building process of their homes.See more
by Dirk Hebel, Workshop Mentor & Professor of Sustainable Construction, Karlsruhe Institut für Technologie (KIT), Karlsruhe, Germany & Member of the Academic Committee, Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction
According to the surveys released by the European Union (EU) in 2020, the construction industry is responsible for 40% of global CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions, 50% of primary energy consumption, 50% of primary raw materials used and 36% of produced solid waste. Mainstream building practices are unsustainable.
The construction sector not only uses an extensive amount of material resources, but it is also responsible for the use of material compounds that are harmful to both humans and the environment, and prevent the establishment of a true circular economy whereby we no longer distinguish between waste and supply.
It is not enough to simply talk about better or more efficient steps to take within the existing systems; it is time for a real paradigm shift. We need to scrutinise our existing system and identify strategies that promote fundamentally sustainable practices, ranging from innovations in the material sector to shifting the way we construct in order to gain all materials after use in their original quality and the promotion of circular metabolisms, detoxification and durability, as well as the elimination of the concept of waste altogether.
Within this vision, housing, as one of the most basic human needs, plays an important role. The questions of how we live together and how we resocialise obsolete materials, structures and spaces is an essential part of the debate on sustainable living and, therefore, on sustainable construction as well. Next to the desired social and ecological impact, the economical aspect of housing has the potential to create local value chains fuelled by locally available urban and biological mines and human capital, and so construct dignified housing environments.See more
As Workshop Mentor Dirk Hebel pointed out, “mainstream building practices are unsustainable. The construction sector uses an extensive amount of material resources and is responsible for the use of material compounds that are harmful to both humans and the environment. It is not enough to talk about more efficient steps to take within the existing systems, but time for a real paradigm shift.”
With a focus on the reuse of existing building materials and the discovery of material alternatives, the Norman Foster Foundation’s 2021 Re-materializing Housing Workshop invited scholars and members of its Academic Body to explore and innovate around sustainable construction practices within the framework of housing as a fundamental human right. Considering the existing built environment as a resource for future building, the Workshop aimed to continue research and practice around construction materials and methods and circular building economies.
The Academic Body of renowned experts in research and practice around construction materials and methods and circular building economies were:
With the participation of ten scholars selected to develop their projects under the mentorship of Dirk Hebel, the Workshop included seven seminars given by academic professors and industry professionals, working sessions and one-on-one tutoring, as well as a guided tour of the Acciona Ombú construction site and Reina Sofía Museum. Additionally, more than 250 guests were invited to attend the Public Debates moderated by chairman Tim Stonor on Wednesday 17 November, in which six members of the academic body took part. All lectures and working sessions were documented and recorded for their contents to be included in the Norman Foster Foundation’s Archive, accessible to students and researchers around the globe.
Ten scholarships were awarded to students selected by the Norman Foster Foundation’s Selection Committee. The selection process began in December 2019 with an open call shared by hundreds of universities and institutions. Using criteria based on worldwide representation and gender equality, the Selection Committee announced the final selection of students:
Workshop Mentor Dirk Hebel began the inaugural seminar with a brief account of his personal journey into the creation of the Karlsruhe Institut für Technologie (KIT). Dealing with innovations in the construction sector to the promotion of circular metabolisms, detoxification and durability, Hebel’s seminar introduced some of KIT’s most successful research in the search of new materials that promote fundamentally sustainable building practices.
Hebel opened his seminar with a brief acknowledgement of the information shared in the latest surveys by the European Union—namely that the construction industry is responsible for 50% of global CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions, 50% of primary energy consumption, 50% of primary raw materials used and 36% of solid waste produced. Within this framework, Hebel urged the audience to critically consider existing building systems and the profound historical crises in the construction industry that have led to the current scarcity of resources and material reserves.
As emphasised by Hebel, now is the time for a paradigm shift. In his own words, ‘Cities can no longer act as mere consumers, but must themselves become producers’. To this end, Hebel argued that the implementation of circular economies can provide us with different approaches to building and material usage and, in turn, transform the built environment through a vision of our cities as material banks within a system that allows for continuous use over time.
In this mission, Hebel said, the role of architecture becomes key. It must inspire ethical questions regarding the use of materials and combine professional concerns with the innate desire to improve the collective quality of life. Alongside the social and ecological aspects of this, Hebel concluded that, in order to construct dignified housing for all of humanity, there must also be economic incentive to create local value chains fuelled by readily available urban and biological mines, and, perhaps most importantly, human capital.See more
Carme Pinós opened her seminar by expressing her conception of the city, the ‘articulated city’, which envisions architecture as the space of relationships and the city itself as the space in which human beings create a sense of community. Presenting various projects of her past work, Pinós referenced her transformation of Plaza de la Gardunya (2006), whose inspirations draw on her familiarity with the city of Barcelona, and, in particular, the rigid geometry of the plaza, especially towards the centre of the space.
To this end, she commented on the importance of understanding the context of a given project and respecting the surrounding neighbourhood, arguing that it is imperative to deeply consider and foresee the consequences that construction might have so as not to disrupt the everyday lives of communities. For Pinós, architecture is not just one aspect of a city, but a perspective that changes the course of people—their interactions, their movement, et cetera— and, because of this, architects have an immense responsibility.
On the other hand, she stated that, while materiality is an important aspect of ecological building, sustainability must start with common sense—that is, open spaces where the air can naturally circulate, something that has become even more necessary during the COVID-19 pandemic. In conclusion, Pinós expressed that the function of the city is to express the dynamism of people and articulate their movement. In her own words, ‘We are social beings and architecture helps to foster relationships.’See more
To begin her seminar, Anna Heringer stated that, while architecture can be used as a tool to improve lives, unfortunately, the opposite is also true. Because the act of building consumes many resources and involves significant budgets that, in turn, impact society, she claimed that architects have an enormous responsibility to not only construct buildings, but to foster communities that occur in harmony with nature.
Referencing her renowned design for the METI School (2007) (pictured below), constructed with earth and bamboo as its principle materials, Heringer explained that, for her, it is essential to involve human beings as sources of creative energy in the construction process, thus stimulating local economies in doing so. In the case of the METI School, designed with the objective of creating a comfortable and inviting space for students to learn, young children were included in the building process and workers were able to invest their earnings in other areas of the community. Additionally, Heringer emphasised the importance of empowering women through the creation of opportunities for craftsmanship, such as textile production.
Continuing with an explanation of the inspirations and technical aspects behind the Anandaloy Centre (2020), a centre in Bangladesh designed for people with disabilities, Heringer commented to the seminar’s listeners that one of the greatest strengths of architecture is to make inclusivity tangible and visible, exemplified by the large ramp winding up the first floor of this building in particular.
Noting the difficulty of bringing similar approaches to the building regulations of European contexts, Heringer applied similar values to the design and construction of the Omicron Monolith (2015) in Austria, noting that impactful change is is sometimes realised not just through large actions, but small decisions with regard to materials. In particular, it is through the use of locally found, natural materials, she said, that humanity can create a healthier and more sustainable world, as well as a more just and inclusive society. To this end, Heringer concluded by noting that, in using natural materials that exist in abundance, architects and designers are able to overcome the guilt sometimes associated with building, allowing them to work creatively and innovatively to design joyful structures.See more
“Architecture must arouse, inspire and feed the human spirit. The need is for professional concern with the environment and an improved quality of human life for all people.” Alongside a series of other inspiring quotes, Brinda Somaya began her seminar under the premise that, beyond building, architects must act as guardians of both the built and the natural environment.
Referencing the historical migration movement in India subsequent to its separation from Pakistan, Somaya presented the architectural history of India post-independence, and, in particular, the modernist movement, which advanced the idea that, to practice architecture in India, it was necessary to break away from the country’s colonial past. Bringing attention to the debate around such architecture’s authenticity, Somaya also noted the observable absence of women before shedding light on key female architects, such as Perin Mistri, India’s first woman architect.
Going on to briefly present the work of her own studio, Somaya and Kalappa Consultants (SNK), Somaya explored the influences and construction techniques behind her own projects, referencing her notable work in the realm of social activism as well. Noting that architecture has a profound contextual meaning, Somaya argued that, more than just buildings, cities need a sense of belonging, a sense of place and a sense of history. To this end, she insisted on the importance of bringing visibility to the work of women in architecture, as well as the urgency of addressing the issues of informal settlements, especially in the context of India, which continues to face mass movements of urban migration.
To close her seminar, Somaya claimed that sustainability must prioritise individual agency and independence. Furthermore, she concluded that any redefinition of architecture, building and materiality must be followed by careful debate, carried out, most importantly, with hope.See more
In the material world we live in today, it is becoming widely known and accepted that what we use to build our cities have a far-reaching impact. With this in mind, how can designers, architects and engineers find scalable solutions that adequately respond to the material problems we face? Questions such as this were posed by Stuart Smith, director of Arup Berlin, to the audience of his seminar at the Norman Foster Foundation.
By way of response, Smith’s seminar emphasised the argument that deploying circular building economies—which envision our cities as material banks within a system that allows continual use over time—may provide innovative approaches to construction and material usage that can, in turn, transform our built environments.
The seminar raised further questions about the ways in which we must urgently change construction to facilitate the recovery of materials, open-source designs for the making and remaking of our buildings and new building technologies along the way. As Smith noted, our health and wellbeing are fundamentally connected to our material environment. In considering the impacts of the materials we use and our interactions with them, we can thus improve our own wellbeing and the wellbeing of those around us.
Through his own practice at Arup, Smith has continued to build on this concept of an urban metabolism. In particular, he highlighted the importance of understanding the biological and technical processes of cities to identify and incentivise circular practices in local ecosystems.
Smith concluded his seminar by noting that blockchain technologies may equally serve as a ‘catalyst for change’ in seeking out waste solutions through the use of data visualisations and mapping of material streams, as well as the identification of stakeholders and the development of methodologies and tools for scalability and citizen engagement.See more
Presenting his renowned work at Better Shelter, a nonprofit company that builds shelters for displacement settlements created in response to warzone conflict and natural crises, Johan Karlsson offered an intensely provocative reconsideration of the relationship between architecture and the humanitarian system. In opposition to the precedent set by traditional shelter architecture, where temporality and impersonality often prevail, Karlsson asked, “Can we build shelters that are able to not only stand against the next hurricane, but to feel like home?”
From there, Karlsson presented the seminar’s audience with a key question: what is it exactly that makes a home? From a social perspective, is there a common denominator across cultures? For humanitarian shelter practitioners, the perspective is often that prefabricated shelters are typically expensive, do not contribute to local labour and are seldom culturally appropriate or functional. Even worse, prefabricated designs are often ‘camps’—that is, the temporary containment of families without any political incentive to become sustainable settlements or cities.
Local reconstruction is the preferred and proven method; yet, in many of the major displacement situations of today, the palette of options is limited. Local supply chains are not functional and populations on the move are large. As Karlsson explained, the average duration of displacement is twenty-six years. The planning horizon, however, is often twelve months or less.
Through the lens of a humanitarian design practitioner, the lecture highlighted the many well-intended, but often incorrect assumptions that designers and architects have, as well as the limitations of standard shelter programming. To conclude, the discussion turned again to the question of how designers may navigate this complex field so as to create solutions that remain relevant throughout the true duration of displacement.See more
In fulfillment of its motto to ‘live well by design’, the mission of Urban Splash, which Tom Bloxham describes as ‘a market-leading urban regeneration developer’ to which he is both founder and chairman, is to build beautiful, modern homes in green neighbourhoods that are full of character. Going through the history of Urban Splash and its work, which includes the creation of over 4,000 new homes, Bloxham took the seminar’s attendees through an overlook of the design firm’s most notable regenerative projects, including the transformation of historic structures such as Concert Square in Liverpool and Lister Mills in Bradford.
According to Bloxham, the home-building industry in the United Kingdom has stagnated, delivering poor quality design and standards. In response, Urban Splash has created a successive venture, House, described as a ‘modern housebuilder’ that uses innovative construction techniques for housing transformations, such as the one completed at Moho in Manchester (Urban Splash, 2006), in which 1,000 modular apartments originally built off-site were delivered as complete dwellings for residents and customised to fit the needs of each user.
Backed by Sekisui House, the world’s largest and most sustainable house-builder, and Homes England, the government’s housing accelerator for the United Kingdom, House follows a similar ethos to that of Urban Splash. Its mission is to create a distinctive and modern housing range and, in doing so, become the ‘designer’ brand of housing, giving customers the opportunity to have ‘architect-designed’ homes.
Going on to present some of House’s completed, ongoing and future projects, Bloxham presented the scholars and Academic body members with a comparison of traditional construction methods—noting, in particular, the industry’s worker shortage and productivity halt—and those of industrial, volumetric construction and prefabricated assembly, which, from Bloxham’s experience, can more capably provide residents with a choice in their living features, creating more open and beautiful spaces.See more
Speaking on her experiences as the former minister of urban renewal and informal settlements in Cairo, Egypt, where materials discarded by the rich constitute the informal waste-management industry of the urban poor, Laila Iskandar’s seminar referenced one of Egypt’s six principle recycling neighborhoods, Manchiyet Nasser, and the waste management system carried out there by its inhabitants.
Iskandar began the presentation by illustrating the sorting and recycling systems of the city’s waste managers, called the Zabbaleen. Clarifying that the operators of these on-the-ground sorting and recycling enterprises are not ‘garbage-collectors’, rather harvesters of materials discarded in consumption cycles, Iskandar noted that these neighbourhoods are strategically inhabited closest to areas where materials of ‘waste’ are typically generated. In these neighbourhoods, homes are designed to accommodate sorting and recycling on the ground floor so as to provide income, while living quarters are situated on higher levels of the building.
According to Iskandar, such systems are socially constructed, arise from the organic relationships between the people and the city and, perhaps most importantly, provide the urban poor with livelihoods, occupations, income and opportunities for economic growth. Through their work, the Zabbaleen represent the first link in a complex chain in which unpaid labour subsidises the cleanliness of the city. To complete these processes of waste management, Iskandar noted, key skills are required, such as the assessment of material composition and quantities, as well as an understanding of the technology used, market–price relationships and family-owned business models. To this extent, recognising the key actors and the barriers that they face in terms of formalisation and land and labour issues is a fundamental aspect to valuing emerging markets such as these.
To conclude her seminar, Iskandar called for the importance of recognising the disconnect between planning practices that attempt to formalise the waste workers’ industry and their constructed informal realities, emphasising that appropriately designing for the Zabbaleen is crucial to keeping Cairo clean.See more
Looking initially at the most cherished part of the home, the living room, the first group was inspired by the spatial efficiencies and urban intensity of Mumbai, and, specifically, the incremental building practices of the neighbouring families who often build their homes piece by piece. In particular, their invention aimed to provide long-term housing for the migrant worker trying to find employment in the city.
Originally shipped to India from England and made up of pre-fabricated steel parts, the first group’s transformation proposed to strip the building down to its bare frame. Their transformation included a renovation of the exterior courtyard and an on-site digital fabrication workshop where residents could build their own housing units through Computerized Numerical Control (CNC)-fabricated components that could fit into the building’s cast iron framework.
Exploring the architectural, social, economic, political and ecological story of the building, their intervention presented an innovative process of reuse and transformation that aimed to build a new identity while celebrating the way of life of the surrounding area’s residents.See more
The second group was inspired by the frequently used outdoor space in San Francisco, a region of Córdoba in Argentina, focusing, in particular, on the flexibility of uses with the objective of providing a first home for couples and small families within the working to middle class over the medium term.
Using an out-of-use factory building as the subject of their transformation, the second group’s intervention aimed to create a circular economy that connected the agricultural industries of the surrounding neighbourhood with housing units there in order to also create a social hub that could be enjoyed by residents and nearby families. To do so, they proposed the recycling of the city’s waste as key building elements to reactivate the factory, effectively utilising the know-how of the nearby parks and agricultural centres and working with the nearby topography. Additionally, their transformation included an exhibition centre through which the community could be involved in the project. Reusing the factory building’s original steel to create a grid-like structure, the objective of their intervention was not only to make Córdoba greener, but to improve the mental health of the city’s inhabitants as well.See more
The Norman Foster Foundation Re-Materializing Housing Workshop took place from 15-19 November 2021 with the support of …
Prototype Droneport Shell
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