Dealing with existing infrastructure has become the most important task facing German architects today. The greatest, most problematic challenge that lies ahead is the downsizing and conversion of postwar buildings, erected from 1950s to the 1970s, which are described as “too unsuitable, too slipshod, too inefficient to serve as housing in the future”. A complete reevaluation of not only of the structures themselves but also the social and historical implications of their unbuilt energy and resources is necessary in order to improve the urban fabric and achieve climatic goals.
In response, the German contribution to the 13th Venice Architecture Biennale, Reduce/Reuse/Recycle, presents sixteen strategies that demonstrate the high degree of creative and architectural potential inherent in an affirmative approach to built architecture.
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General Commissioner of the German contribution, architect Muck Petzet, stated: “The quality of the projects shown here lies in the intelligence of their strategies and not of their interventions. In the long run, the ability to study and identify with the existing inventory counts more than confronting it with something new.”
Architects are now finding themselves in the unaccustomed role of interpreting and developing existing buildings, which is diametrically opposed to the iconic authorial tenet that currently prevails in this vocation. An evaluation of existing buildings requires a profound change in attitude, much like that achieved by environmentalists in the 1970s and 1980s with respect to waste management.
Reduce/Reuse/Recycle stands for a successful shift in value from waste to reusable material. The three terms describe a waste hierarchy that gives the highest priority to the most efficient strategies of minimization: avoidance comes first followed by direct reuse and, in third place, recycling which changes the properties of the material. This same logic may be applied in setting up a new value system to address existing buildings: the fewer changes that are made and the less energy used, the better the process.
The exhibition presents projects and perspectives by architects who take a positive, empowering view of existing structures as an inspiration and motivation for further development.
The General Commissioner of the German contribution, architect Muck Petzet, is intensely interested in strategies of transformation in both his professional practice and his teaching. His contribution was selected from over 70 proposals submitted to a competition. Konstantin Grcic is in charge of the exhibition design. Dutch photographer and artist Erica Overmeer will lend her view of the everyday context of architecture. The catalogue, edited by Muck Petzet and Florian Heilmeyer, will be designed by Thomas Mayfried. Project and editorial management will be handled by Sally Below, consultant for cultural affairs, who has already overseen two German contributions in Venice.
The contribution is supported by the Federal Ministry of Transport, Building and Urban Development (BMVBS).
Muck Petzet: “Demolition and replacement may sometimes be meaningful or necessary but there are often even more meaningful alternatives.”