Superuse stands for special reuse. Trash and residual material is not inferior. You look at ways of making it functional, as well as making something beautiful.
“As an architect, you have to be a social engineer”
When I started thinking about integrated building, I realized how much had to change. Not just the way in which we build, but also how we work, recreate, live. We must look at other ways of organizing society, we have to change the whole tax system. Currently, everything’s split up; everything’s separate.”
Césare Peeren is one of the founders of Superuse. When the studio was first set up in 1997, they called themselves 2012 Architects. They imagined they would need fifteen years to bring about important changes in contemporary thinking about building, recycling and sustainability. Founders Jan Jongert and Césare Peeren had a goal: to reduce the use of virgin building materials through innovation and well thought-through designs.
Scrap wood is turned into first class furniture; a dance floor is created from old desktops; bus shelters or outdoor benches are made from decommissioned windmill blades
In 2012, many projects later, the architects changed their name to Superuse Studios; a word that better describes their founding principles. Recycling actually degrades materials; the original product is usually brought back to the market in the form of an inferior material: writing paper becomes toilet paper; plastic waste becomes packaging material etc. Superuse brings a product back to life in a form that is at least as valuable as, if not more valuable than, its original use. Examples are manifold: scrap wood is turned into first class furniture; a dance floor is created from old desktops; bus shelters or outdoor benches are made from decommissioned windmill blades; airplane interiors used for decoration, lighting and ventilation panels in a performance room. In short, these are examples of the many products that are now being reused in a better way, and products that also add something ‘extra’ to the surroundings in terms of design.
Césare, “In Groningen, I’m working on transforming an old power plant. It’s for and with a community of 4000 people whose common interest is music. We have 500 volunteers, and there’s a smaller group that wants to live and work there. We’re building homes, as well as a venue for music, studios, and industrial space. But we’ve also included agriculture, so they are self-sustainable. That’s how you build a small village community, products are exchanged, energy is shared. By creating these economic and social ties, things become lighter, simpler, and this all takes less energy, money and effort.”
“Superuse stands for special reuse. Trash and residual material are not inferior. You look at ways of making it functional, as well as making something beautiful. An example is music venue Worm where we reused airplane panels with ventilation and light to produce a decorative solution instead of simply reusing the plastic.”
“I look at the world, how we created it and what we now have. And I want to use only those things: the materials, people, systems, money, but also the political and economic systems. The tax system should also be transformed, for instance by levying taxes on materials instead of on labor. People would then completely rethink their use of materials. A lot of materials are reusable, so we would need less new resources. That is how we can create more compact, logical and efficient ‘things’. There’s a lot of recycling going on, but it hasn’t been thought through. Something is taken out of its original form and moulded into a new product. Everything that is made should be reusable. Superuse, where we creatively think about what can be done with this residual product, is a great solution.”
Maybe I’m being too optimistic to think that we can achieve the critical mass needed to prevent us crashing our current system
“We’ve developed ‘Harvest Map’, an open source platform for the local exchange of waste streams between producers of waste, designers and builders. Harvest Map stimulates local reuse, but it is also available to professionals around the world. We now have people working with the tool all over Holland, in Milan and Detroit, in Spain and in China. Valuable components located in the wrong place at the wrong time are shown on a map, together with the time they become available. It’s a tool for architects, so they can see what’s available when they start designing. The sooner you’re present when a building is being demolished, the higher the chance of getting a good superuse.”
“We want to go even further with this, taking it beyond the materials themselves. For example, you can make a supply and demand map for labor, or of water and energy, if there’s a surplus. It’s the Blue economy – where you connect all sorts of things. If a stream is blocked, just like in acupuncture, you put a needle in it, so the stream can flow again. Energy is an important core. If you touch energy, you touch the heart of the economy. If you decentralize this, you touch the power. The perceived energy development hierarchy doesn’t exist; it’s not true that we first mined coal, then oil, and that after that sun and wind energy took their place. We still use coal and oil fundamentally; we’re actually using more and more energy. I believe you shouldn’t build an inefficient house and then make it sustainable by adding a lot of solar panels. You have to build the house in such a way that it needs the smallest amount of energy, and supply the remaining need by using modern and lightweight technology. I don’t advocate a return to living in a mud hut, but we should use as little technology as possible, because it takes a lot of energy to produce the technology, and most of it is completely unnecessary!”
“Social engineering can benefit the environment greatly. In Groningen, for example, this means motivating people to close loops locally and that they organize themselves in such a way that resources are used locally. And if you show enough people how to do that, how to turn around, then you make a difference. Maybe I’m being too optimistic to think that we can achieve the critical mass needed to prevent us crashing our current system, the way we’re still going on. At the moment, a sustainable circular version of our society is still in its infancy. We pioneers have a long way to go: it’s astonishing how little of the knowledge we now have about living resiliently is being put into practice.”