Well I’ll be a seagull!

Thanks to our reader Jeroen Harkes we now know that the “Redneck Mansion” is actually a set for the outdoor Theater het Amsterdam Bos. It seems so obvious in retrospect. It was designed by Catherina Scholten for the 2005 production of Anton Chekhov‘s Ivanov, his early play about a disillusioned young intellectual – surprise surprise – not unlike Chekhov himself – surprise surprise – who ultimately commits suicide – surprise surprise. But a great set and yet another example, if any was needed, of the creativity of Dutch design in recent times. And as Jeroen Harkes points out you can hardly say that something three years old is racing through the net. What was really racing was the use of the image as a pretext for vilifying the poor and the joke is now on everyone who was sneering when they saw it tagged as a “redneck mansion” (said with our most po faced look of disapproval, we are just sick of hearing about wealth as a measure of anything other than greed or good luck).

ope air theatre amsterdam ivanov by chekhov

There are more images of it on flickr now we know what we are looking for and we even found the source of the original, it’s by Elmer Kroese.

Panic NOW!

The subtext of this blog is sustainability and when we started two years ago it was still possible to maintain the illusion the planet could be saved and even fairly trivial actions like adaptive reuse could contribute to making things right. Of course we don’t believe that any more. There will be no fairy tale happy ending and we (ie us sentient beings of every species) have been doomed by humanity’s extraordinarily imaginative and energetic exercise of greed.

In case this sounds a bit extreme we would point to the response of the newly elected Australian Government (supposedly our climate change saviours) to this week’s preliminary report by its climate change advisor, right wing economist Ross Garnaut. He was meant to greenwash the coal industry and justify inaction but instead he announced that 90% emission cuts were necessary by 2050 (admittedly with lots of market religion provisos). Suddenly the Government was fleeing from him in terror, incapable of facing the endemic corporate corruption that blocks real climate change action.

And then we would point to this graph from gristmill where Joseph Romm talks about the nonsense of “consensus” on climate change.

arctic melt graph

As he pointedly observes, science deals in observable facts, not consensus. The graph illustrates the difference between the IPCC report’s consensus on melting arctic ice and the observable reality from satellites.

Romm says

I do believe in science. And I do believe in real-world observations. Perhaps the central question of our time is whether those who don’t will stop those who do from saving the planet.

And that is why Garnaut and the Australian Government and most other governments are wrong. By the time they all concede that we must do what must be done rather than what is comfortable or easily affordable it will all be too late. In fact it is becoming pretty obvious that it is too late already.

Rising in the world

redneck mansion trailer reuse

This image under the title Redneck Mansion is racing through the blogosphere faster than headlice through a kindergarten leaving a wake of vicious and patronising comments, as if rednecks had a monopoly on vulgarity. But it strikes us as an imaginative, witty and good fun bit of adaptive reuse, not at all vulgar – and probably fairly expensive to build. So yah boo sucks to the commenters who seem a more vulgar bunch of rednecks than whoever built this. But where is it? And where did the image originally come from?

Don’t look down!

alternating stair bookcase

A bookcase adaptively reused as a staircase or a staircase adaptively reused as a bookcase? Oh well, taxonomy always was a taxing discipline. You have no doubt already seen these stairs or bookcase in the last week or so – although I can’t remember where I saw them first. But Apartment Therapy is where they came from and bottleworld has a post discussing why alternating tread stairs work so well.

Abjects in the landscape

The problem of redundant nuclear power stations can’t easily be swept under the carpet, you need something bigger than that, like a small mountain perhaps?

http://adaptivereuse.net/wp-content/uploads/images/Trawsfynydd Magnox nuclear power station

If this dinosaur technology gets revived cleaning up after it will become a chronic problem so it’s interesting to consider a 1994 project to adaptively reuse the Trawsfynydd Magnox nuclear power station in Wales. Built in the late 1950s and designed, amazingly, by Sir Basil Spence of Coventry Cathedral fame, Trawsfynydd had the usual controversial history. It was claimed at the time that it would blend into the landscape and if you believed that then we have some Nigerian friends you may like to meet, they want to give you millions of dollars. Echoing Soane, Spence more realistically quipped “Will it make a beautiful ruin?” .

Landscape reuse aficionado David Barrie (with whom we feel a natural affinity) created the project to explore solutions to the Trawsfynydd decommissioning, a process predicted to take over 100 years.

Arup Partners proposal for Trawsfynydd

We liked the sweep-it-under-a-mountain solution,

site architects Trawsfynydd proposal

and the paint-watercolours-that-make-it-look-like-a-romantic-ruined-castle solution has a lot going for it as well. In fact they are all pretty interesting, even the Michelin-man-fat-suit solution.

Personally, we would propose a more brutal sort of Picturesque solution, use random explosive charges to collapse half of both buildings leaving giant shattered stumps, sprinkle them with something that softly fluoresces in the moonlight (this may be unnecessary) then add some ivy to finish it off. In other words, adaptive reuse as a monstrous landscape garden folly. Perhaps a few oversize Welsh gnomes by Ron Mueck would help.

Check it out on David Barrie’s blog, in fact read the whole blog, it’s worth the effort. (Note to David Barrie: the content is great, but the white on black theme…? IMHO)

Architecture jocks

Respect for layering is a basic heritage principle.

Heritage places are the result of a layering of history, of use and change, and it is the values related to this layering which is important.
(Pearson & Marshall, 1995, Study of World Heritage Values Convict Places)

The principle is so fundamental that it is now a given that contemporary additions should be in a contemporary style, albeit sympathetic to the existing fabric in scale and treatment, rather than attempt to mimic the style of the original building.

On the other hand we doubt if anyone foresaw that layering in a different sense would become a plague on heritage buildings. First we had that heritage disaster, facadism.

facadism in london

Adaptive reuse it ain’t. It’s a blight around the world and can only be seen as a sort of architectural passive-aggressive contempt for heritage, a way for mediocre architects (and governments and planners and above all developers) to spit in the face of a public that preferred the building that was there already. It is revealing that, for all its ubiquity, facadism seems to have had only one serious book written about it and perhaps that’s an indicator of a secret shame within the architectural profession …. at least we hope so.

But there is another closely related form of physical layering, piling one building on top of another like a cake. Proposals date back decades and have almost invariably caused controversy.

But you do see cases where the results are good enough to be defensible,

Hearst Tower New York by Norman Foster
Milton CJ)

like Norman Foster’s Hearst Tower in New York. But mostly piles, as we like to call them, just look ungainly at the smallest scale, and at the largest scale the historic building is often reduced to a hollow decorative podium,

Hearst Tower New Yok lobby(Photo glemak)

its integrity compromised if not completely destroyed.

And then one day you see a pile that can only be described as beautiful.

Caixa Forum Madrid Herzog de Meuron
(Photo greta_y_doraimon)

We posted another similar Herzog and de Meuron project in Hamburg but this is a smaller example of the same approach applied to the headquarters of a private benevolent trust, the Caixa Forum, in Madrid. It has more than the usual adaptive reuse virtues. Of course it reuses an existing building and it is appropriate in scale to its surroundings, but by removing the foundations they have given it the appearance of levitating, a conceit that lifts it well out of the ordinary.

The Caixa Forum has adaptively reused other buildings

Caixa Forum Casa Ramona Barcelona

– its Barcelona gallery is in a rebuilt 1911 Art Nouveau Factory – but the Madrid building,

Caixa Madrid Patrick Blanc plant wall
(Photo davidarredondogarrido)

with the addition of the Patrick Blanc Mur Végétal, raises interesting questions about the way cultural memes present themselves within different art forms. Removing the foundations of the original building

Caixa Forum Madrid entrance

effectively turns both the new and the original buildings into samples and the architects into architectural DJs (or should that be AJs) rubbing stylistic snippets up against each to create a delightful cacophony. It seems to have taken a century or so for the cubist collage aesthetic to reach architecture, and along the way it passed through Brion Gysin and William Burroughscut-up writing technique and the music of John Cage to hip hop and finally it’s ended up in architecture. Why has it taken so long? (Yes, we know there an infinite number of unintentional historical examples.)

Breathe easy

Appropedia is a wiki that has been slowly bubbling along collecting a range of material around appropriate technologies. At times it feels a bit hokey, a bit neo hippy, but that’s what the open source software movement was like ten years ago and look at it now. We predict a great future for it. As Victor Papanek fans from way back there is even something nostalgic about it at times.

plastic bottle asthma spacer

And their highlighted project right now is an adaptively reused 500cc PET plastic bottle used as a spacer for asthma medications. How appropriate!

Renovation madness

As you may have noticed, we’ve been doing a bit of renovation.

home renovation mess

We may have been slow with the posts last year due to unavoidable circumstances but we were thinking hard. Let’s be blunt about it, this blog started off as an amusing diversion, turned a bit obsessive then got partly derailed by physical frailty. Nonetheless its readership has continued to creep up way beyond anything we had expected so we were faced with a dilemma, just keep spluttering along or get a bit more serious about it.

Getting serious partly means “monetising” as they say in the trade. “Monetising” is of course a bit of a joke, our optimistic hope is that we’ll make enough to buy each of us at least one cafe latte per month, but putting in the Amazon bookshop allows us to select a range of interesting and relevant books. We spend a lot of our time dredging through Amazon and other book stores so it was a logical move. The real joke is that Amazon, in its technical brilliance, is unable to pay anyone outside the US in anything other than credits – no EFTs for them – so if we make any money we”ll have to spend it on books. Talk about working for the company store!

More importantly, getting serious means expanding our scope a bit and turning this blog into a real adaptive reuse resource as well as a site for our self indulgent commentary. Of course we’ll continue with the current thread of commentary but we’d like to start another thread showcasing the more conventional but often exemplary conversions and renovations that we have tended to ignore simply because there are so many of them. Since every architecture firm on the planet now claims to be expert in adaptive reuse we have no doubt that you are all champing at the bit to send us info on your latest project. If we can slowly build up a gallery of projects we hope that we can create a resource base that will help advance adaptive reuse as a universal strategy. You can email us at info@adaptivereuse.net and soon we will have a special send-us-your-ideas contact form when we manage to fix up the nightmare that is emails and PHP and WordPress. (Yes our beautiful contact us form doesn’t work, your message will go nowhere until further notice, cforms is the greatest WordPress plugin ever but the whole thing still doesn’t play.)   You can now contact us via our special send-us-your-ideas form or our contact-us form on the menu above.

We’ve also moved links so we have room to do more with them, and we’ve done a bit of redecorating, increased the type size for tired, computer wrecked eyes (have you noticed that “serious” blogs use smaller type, it’s like the snobbery about tabloid and broadsheet newspapers) and as a result we now have a cleaner simpler page, despite the added advertising. For those who are into that sort of thing we’re using a Sandbox theme called Essay (thanks Ian Stewart, great design) but we’ve hacked it about so much we’ve destroyed its essential integrity which was its 28px grid. If you want to see it in a purer form have a look at one of our other blogs where we have used it with only slight modifications.

We’ll introduce a few more changes in coming months. Meanwhile, we’d love to hear your comments, suggestions and ideas.

Catching up

We’re back after a desperately needed break, last year was far too busy and problematic, hence the slow posting. Hope you all had a happy buying season and paid due obeisance to the gods of consumerism – at least you can be sure they exist.

Santa confesses he and Jesus aren't real

Let’s do a bit of a round up to get us started.

This turned up in our email from Etienne Meneau titled La Maison Elastique

The elastic houses are made for those who like instability and precarious, who like to be awakened by the sound of the rain, those who like to sleep under the boats returned. They will be recalled at any time to the realities of gravity, rocked bywind and earthquakes. The elastic houses therefore ask its inhabitants a strong sense of balance and a real taste for the experiments.

And we are of course great lovers of the unstable and the precarious. But that image has already got a bit of a run from a few other blogs.

We preferred this,

a more minimal interpretation of the hammock adaptively reused as a hang out, so to speak.

And the roof is also wonderful but the reason for its wonderfulness eludes us, it just has that certain minimalist indefinable je ne sais quoi.

(Photo cdstar)

Meanwhile the High Line adaptive reuse project is progressing nicely although this garden will be sadly missed by someone. It illustrates perfectly how it’s the stolen places and lost spaces in the cracks of urbanisation that so often make cities livable. Here are some photos of the work in progress. And speaking of stolen places, just in case you missed this story, how about living (secretly) in a mall?

Studio Jo Meesters in Eindhoven in the Netherlands has been adaptively reusing old tea services as, er, new tea services by sand blasting them

And near by in Brussels time is up for RDF811,

the temporary headquarters of Brussels group Rotor, also squeezed into a waste space if not exactly lost or secret.

In December 2006, Rotor took the initiative to build a temporary HQ in the rue de flandres. One year and a 2 months later, we are starting to plan its disassembly. Deconstruction is scheduled for 22, 23, 24 of February, and we are still looking for volunteers who can help us. Concretely, we are looking for 10 volunteers for each day, but if you can only spare a couple of hours, you are welcome as well.

If you’re in Brussels with a hammer in your hand contact them through their new website .

We liked their kitchen of reused diecutting stamping boards but we doubt if there are enough to go round, just like there weren’t enough of the book that has come out on our favourite architects Lacaton Vassal and sold out before we even heard about it. It’s a hard life.

But at least those bats won’t miss out,

their new home is on the way.

Finally, we are so used to seeing great films stolen and fucked up by Hollywood remade (there is nothing in the universe that can’t be made cheaper and nastier under the direction of an accountant) that it is great to see a project that could be described as an adaptive reuse of a film classic with the potential to be as interesting as the original.

Dziga Vertov‘s early cinematic masterpiece Man with a movie camera is being remade shot by shot on the internet in a sort of open source film making exercise where you can provide your own version of a scene from the original.

Individuals are invited to upload shots and scenes based on scenes from the original film, creating a database which then streams as a film. As a collection of personal visions this montage is in Vertov’s terms “a continuous exchange of visible fact”. Uploads to the site will take place continuously: the nature of the database is infinite.

We loved the original and we are sure this will be a classic as well. (Thanks for the link Deb)

People who live in glass houses shouldn’t live near fireworks factories

We’ve received some interesting suggestions from readers recently (send more, more, more)


and one of the most interesting was this house of adaptively reused windows in the alternative community Christiania in Copenhagen, sent by Kristian Seier who says

the glass house and its many neighbours are seriously under threat these years, but the wild, everyday poetry of this building has rarely, if ever, been achieved by any professional, Danish architect, and it should be listed rather than razed.

His commentary says it for us, a sad reflection on lost ideals and the critical importance of understanding layering if we are to understand history:

le corbusier famously claimed that all architecture could communicate was ideas. and the original ideas of christiania are well put by the best buildings out there: an open community of equals; a deep distrust, no, dismissal of authorities – including architects; a deep trust in the creative potential of ordinary people when left to govern their own lives. modesty. individualism. sustainability.

today, there is a strong political will to tear the houses down. they are illegal, follow no building code, have no permits. the old copenhagen defense line on which they are situated must be cleared to protect the city’s cultural heritage.

but these buildings are cultural heritage too. and while the 20th century has left us all with a distrust of utopian and idealist thinking, tearing them down will be acting in a dangerous denial of history.

Some commenters compared this building to the Hexenhaus of Alison and Peter Smithson,


their most only endearing construction but we feel that’s a purely formalist and superficial comparison. It reminds us more of the work of the Russian architect and artist Alexander Brodsky whose Paper Architecture satirised the “all plans and no buildings” path to architectural celebrity.

vodka pavilion

We hope one day to emulate his Vodka Ceremony Pavilion with a Beer Drinking Pavilion in our garden (although since last Saturday night we have been considering an Exploding Fireworks Factory Viewing Pavilion complete with artfully broken windows reminiscent of those now found on one side of our house).