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Superuse: A Book Review
Regine Debatty, 22 May 07

0aasupersuse.jpgSuperuse - Constructing new architecture by shortcutting material flows, by Ed van Hinte, Jan Jongert and Césare Peeren.

Editors say: You could recycle, discard or even burn them of course: cable reels, window frames, washing machines, diapers, crates, carpet tiles, double glazing panels or old buses. The other option is to put them to good use: Superuse. It happens everywhere, albeit on a modest scale. Architects apply these materials in their designs. It requires special attention and new skills, but the resulting images can have quite unexpected qualities.

Superuse is a practical and inspiring book about the construction of new buildings with surplus materials. It was initiated by the Rotterdam Recyclicity foundation, which specifically addresses this theme.

We all know that green issues, sustainability, reuse are often associated with dull, unstylish and ugly objects and buildings no one would really lust for, but the authors of Superuse demonstrate that in many places, "dull" is on its way to the dump as a descriptive for reuse projects. The examples in their book make reuse look original and fun. But I appreciated that they are also clearly aware of several drawbacks that hamper the best intentions in this medium, even including in the book an interview with Taeke de Jong, Professor of Ecology at the University of Technology in Delft, who didn't try to hide his skepticism.

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Capsule hotel

Reuse has already spread out fairly far into the design and fashion world, but there's still much to be done on the architecture front. Two main reasons: the building process is rooted in a strong artisan tradition that doesn't allow for more than marginal changes, and much architectural discourse deals with particular kinds of aesthetics and materiality that usually overlook existing elements as potential components of a new building.

A crucial element in the process of superuse is to find materials and parts. 2012 Architects proposes to use a "harvest map" -- a 50km diameter map of the area around a building site. The top of the map indicates general ideas of transportation needs.

The Miele Space Station

Superuse calls for more than maps, it needs:

- people who could be regarded as "superuse scouts," able to recognize opportunities,

- people who have knowledge similar to that needed for sabotage, except that the aim is constructive -- they would know how to cut and take apart parts in a clever way

- special tools and machines for reworking the elements

- products that could be more easily assembled or even better, products designed to be reused.

The Wall

Superuse might also come with some unwanted side effects. "As soon as waste gets a value, it can no longer be considered a waste," explains industrial designer Mark Goedkoop. When Philips started to produce energy efficient PL lamps, consumers used them in places that wouldn't have had lighting earlier on, which in the end is not what sustainability should be about.

Now for some nice examples of Superuse:

The Miele space station
, built by Architects 2012 as an espresso bar, from (mainly Miele) washing machines and found steel tubes. The bar and kitchen elements are built from wasted billboards and grips are from plane seatbelt-fittings.


Spanish organization Avion found a plane in a dump after it had crashed some years ago. They stripped the DC-9 to the bone and turned it into a lorry for exhibitions and performances. The height allows the refurbished DC-9 to pass most European standard flyovers.

One of the nicest projects involving the use of a plane is LOT-EK's proposal for the Jalisco Library, Guadalajara, Mexico competition. Their plan was to stack over 200 Boeing 727 and 737 fuselages in a north-south slant in relation to sun exposure for energy efficiency.

The Wall, built by Christo and Jeanne-Claude located inside a Gasometer in Oberhausen, Germany. The 13,000 oil barrels structure might be what inspired their Mastaba project in Abu Dhabi which will include 400,000 barrels.


Diapers Roof Garden

Qenep harnessed the super-absorbing polymers of non-biodegradable diapers (they can hold up to half a liter of urine, a byproduct that is known to be a very good source of nitrogen for plants) to build a light rooftop garden composed of these diapers in The Hague.

More information about superuse on the website (first discovered at Edgar's place), an online community of designers, architects and everybody else who is interested in inventive ways of recycling.

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I'm in the process of turning an old camping trailer into a chicken tractor. Does that qualify as "superuse"?

These things are all over the place. I put a query out on a local emailing list, and had FIVE offers of trailers! I'm going to use one of those offers for goats, and yet another one was good enough for human habitation!

This is not just an option -- a sustainable future depends on such re-use.

Posted by: Jan Steinman on 23 May 07

this site has a lot of potential for millions of people making the small positive changes that will make for global change

Posted by: philwootton on 31 May 07



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