Recycling architecture
Second life for scrap and waste

By using recycled material for construction work you can avoid waste, save energy and support climate protection. However, recycling architecture can accomplish even more. Folke Köbberling and Martin Kaltwasser show how urban spaces can be reclaimed using recycling architecture. The architects at Karo Architekten design new typologies on old foundations and socles.

The conceptual artists, Folke Köbberling and Martin Kaltwasser from Berlin, design their sculptural works and structures from discarded, found and donated material, using the “City as a Resource”. In the summer of 2012 they built a temporary entrance to the Jahrhunderthalle in Bochum, that was made from household trash, Euro pallets and elements from old stage sets. This created an urban landscape that some 200 volunteers helped to erect. “For the collection, sorting and cutting out of the material – and most particularly for the actual composition and assembly work – we rely on the help of local residents and other interested parties. Our work thus encourages exchange and communication”, Folke Köbberling explains.

Sense of community and “potential spaces”

Besides creating a sense of community among those actively taking part, “potential spaces” are always opened up. Folke Köbberling: “We want to reclaim these spaces because they show how urban living has many different forms and is not just focused on commercial, consumption-oriented interests.” The two artists have been implementing this recovery process in many different ways for more than a decade now. In 2004, for instance, they built a house on a disused field in Berlin, overnight, from timber scrap. From fruit and vegetable pallets and plywood they created the fully functional, temporary Jellyfish Theatre in London in 2010. And in 2011 they turned 32,000 plastic cups that were collected at major sports events into a weatherproof outside cover for a festival in Berlin’s Haus der Kulturen der Welt.

Folke Köbberling, Martin Kaltwasser, Temporary Roof Haus der Kulturen Berlin, 2011 Folke Köbberling, Martin Kaltwasser, Temporary Roof Haus der Kulturen Berlin, 2011 | Photo: Köbberling&Kaltwasser © VG-Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2013 With these sustainable structures made from waste and scrap material Köbberling and Kaltwasser not only express their scepticism about conventional waste recycling, their projects also reveal how easy it is to revitalise and reclaim urban spaces: with maximum participation of local residents and with minimal financial resources. Folke Köbberling: “With self-built structures and architectural designs made from local scrap material we are able to demonstrate an open, more communicative form of urban planning.”

Component exchange instead of landfills

Dumping good quality, used components on landfills is a waste of resources. Recycling architects are not the only ones to believe this, it is also an opinion shared by those in charge of component exchanges who collect leftovers from demolition or refurbishing work and offer their findings for further use. There are now component exchanges in eleven German cities, including Bremen and Augsburg. Saarbrücken even has a DIY store for used components, that opened in the summer of 2012.

Open-air library made from recycled material

Karo Architekten, Reading Hall in Magdeburg Salbke Karo Architekten, Reading Hall in Magdeburg Salbke | Photo: Anja Schlamann The architects at Karo Architekten discovered that a lot of people attach importance to recycling in construction. The office then went on to design the open-air library “Lesezeichen Salbke” in Magdeburg, that opened in 2009. This is an L-shaped wall that incorporates bookshelves and wood-lined sitting niches, in front of which there is a green area and a small stage. Here, the most striking feature is the façade of reclaimed aluminium honeycombs that originates from a demolished department store in Hamm (Westphalia). “The shape and function of the Lesezeichen were designed in a process similar to a ping-pong session with the local residents”, Stefan Rettich of Karo Architekten adds. “The use of recycling material was an outcome of this participation process, many pro-active residents were in favour of this method.”

The project began as an experimental intervention in urban space. The cooperatively developed idea of a long bookcase was then implemented by the Karo architects in 2005 – using 1,000 beer crates and donated books. The functional test was successful and with financial support from the government the “Lesezeichen” was built as a permanent installation. Although this project has won many awards, it is now facing a crucial test. Young hooligans also use the area and this has led to smeared cabinets and torn up books. Stefan Rettich on this issue: “The onus is on the city to take regulatory action.”

A new interpretation of historical testimonies

Karo Architekten, Reading Hall in Magdeburg Salbke Karo Architekten, Reading Hall in Magdeburg Salbke | Photo: Anja Schlamann Karo Architekten – the name of this office founded in Leipzig in 1999 stands for “(K)Communication, Architecture and Regional planning” – uses available (building) materials in other contexts as well. In their design for the planned “Monument to Freedom and Unity” in Leipzig the architects propose taking shaped stones from the former building of the East German secret police to build a “Room of Democracy“. This “room” should then be open to anyone wanting to exercise their democratic rights (such as organising a demonstration, for example). In this sense, recycling also means putting historical testimonies of stone or concrete into new contexts, creating new associations and new interpretations.

In their “Haus@Hochparterre” residential concept the architects demonstrate that processes of this kind can also produce completely new typologies. This concept is a proposal for the revitalisation of shrinking cities, whether in the state of Saxony-Anhalt or in the Ruhr District. Here the solid foundation and base of deteriorating Gründerzeit houses are maintained, including the shop and representative entrance. New detached houses are erected on top of these old socles. Stefan Rettich on this concept: “Maintaining the base sections localises the new houses in the resident’s accustomed townscape, this being essential for the identity of the street.”