Friday, May 16, 2008

Adam Hills from Retrouvius talks at Grand designs

Adam Hills speaks at Grand Designs live Sunday 11th May - Reclamation finding beauty in the past. 'Dispelling the myth that new is always better, our reclamation gurus extol the virtues of re-using materials and objects from the past.'

Second hand

It gets called a lot of names but all these activities promote reuse. Often the difference is simply one of marketing – it could be said that we buy scrap and sell antiques. But I don’t think these distinctions are important from an ecological perspective because we are all in it together. Materials we salvage are normally from effectively finite sources. Marble, granite, metals, tropical hardwoods like teak. These materials DO have inherent value and recognising this is primary. Yes things go out of fashion but that does not mean they should be destroyed. Fashion cycles turn ever faster – they will come back.

The ecological mantra is reduce, reuse, recycle. Reduce consumption-make do with what you have and use less. Stop shopping. Reuse-mend, repair, adapt that broken thing you have and give it a new lease of life. Recycle-melt down the metal, glass etc and make new cars, bottles whatever. So reduce = make do and reuse = mend. And you can see that the WW2 adage “make do and mend” has itself been recycled to “reduce and reuse”. But without the rationing, yet. My point is that green issues are not new. Yes carbon footprint and global warming and fresh buzzwords but the need to conserve and value our resources is an age old need and one that really we have only had to recently rediscover and justify.

Architectural Salvage is logical, common-sense & against the in-built obsolescence of our industrialised disposable society. After the austerity years of WW2 the urge for new saw a whole-sale rejection of old as huge clearances and new building programmes took place and it was really during that time that we lost sight of salvage as a worthwhile activity. It is estimated that the salvage market is worth £1billion per annum. The total amount of demolition and construction waste generated in the UK has been estimated at 70m tonnes. Of this about 5% IS RECLAIMED.

Agenda 21 was revealed at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (Earth Summit), held in Rio de Janeiro –the programme run by the United Nations (UN) relates to sustainable development. It is a comprehensive blueprint of action to be taken globally, nationally and locally by organisations of the UN, governments, and major groups in every area in which humans impact on the environment. The number 21 refers to the 21st century. Agenda 21 has focused attention on the practical application of recycling to domestic waste in order to save resources and energy, thereby reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

The annual volume of demolition and construction waste in the UK is several times larger than that of domestic waste. There are attempts to reduce the amount of waste going to landfill –the Landfill Tax. But there are no laws, rules, guidelines to actually promote architectural reclamation. I think there should be.

Any element of a building can be salvaged –IT IS NOT JUST ABOUT CAST IRON BATHS– Reclaimed Building Materials which are structural elements- beams, bricks, slates, floors; and the pretty bits Architectural Antiques - fireplaces, lighting, claw-foot cast iron baths etc.

Demolition sites - it is frustratingly arbitrary. Of course we have our network of dealers and demolisher's but often commonly and historically the architectural salvage market has been associated with the period home restoration -a Victorian 4 panelled door reclaimed from a condemned building for a Victorian house; a Georgian fireplace for a Georgian living room. But what happens to a 1960s brutalised office building in The City? It may contain hardwood handrails, flooring, granite cladding, furniture…

Retrouvius, started 16 years ago and we have tried to remove these false historical boundaries to promoting reuse through design. Contemporary tastes are thankfully eclectic and buildings are enhanced by the depth, the qualities, the story that old materials bring.

It tells you that you can feel really good about getting involved. You can feel evangelical and self-righteous and very very green. YOU CAN HAVE YOUR CAKE AND EAT IT. The salvage world is philosophically allied to the artisans slow food movement, the promotion of craftsmanship, In the food industry concerns over distances travelled and sustainability are common, but we tend not to worry so much about the source of our building materials.

sourcing - being adaptable and adapting: designing with salvage often leads people to jump to finding different uses for an object, like using a cast iron rainwater hopper as an uplighter. Sometimes these are executed with great wit and originality but often they become one-line jokes. It is safer to reuse items as they were intended...let the rainwater hopper be a rainwater hopper. The other thing to avoid is superficial reuse...please don’t build a new project with all new materials and then hang one old window frame as a mirror and think that you are embracing salvage! Design architectural salvage into your house..beams, doors etc. Repairing - planning ahead, problems of us sourcing, planning ahead during strip-out. Design for reuse – office buildings 20 year lifespan! But do they look ahead to reuse? Many salvage dealers end up doing repro.

Ecology, History, Economy - I would be lying if I didn’t admit that primarily I love the thrill of the chase and cutting a deal, the evangelical zeal of saving things..FREE shopping. Using my vision for reuse...I was thinking that it would be great if we stopped making chairs until all the chairs that exist had a home!
Working with specialist craftsmen to repair and restore and rejig, appreciative clients. Completing the circle from building-salvage-restoration-reuse into a new building – the whole cycle- CRADLE TO CRADLE


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