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Towards a Sustainable Studio

Over recent years, sustainability has been a recurring subject in studio, practice, education, and research. People want to take part in creating a more sustainable world to live in, but there are times where taking on sustainability feels as a small but difficult task to do.

This is especially prevalent  in studio and academia, since it might seem as if there is no significant impact when the project – or discussion – stays as a conceptual idea. But, what if instead of talking about sustainable methods, one can find a way to practice it? Instead of leaving it at a conceptual state, there are ways where one can start making small, easy decisions that would expand how we understand and talk about sustainability.

Reuse, Reduce, Recycle

Almost every person knows about the ‘three R’s’; Reuse, Reduce and Recycle, which is what sustainability consists of, but there is another verb, to repurpose, which essentially sums up what these three words intend to do. Even though adding ‘repurposing’ to the repertoire does not change the scale or outcome of the projects, it serves as an active process of taking action on sustainability. 

When referring to an active process, instead of a passive process, it means that one is automatically looking for a reason to repurpose. Instead of recycling or reducing materials, if you actively decide to repurpose something, you are challenged to think on how something will be transformed and given another use or meaning. When using the phrase “to repurpose”, one explicitly determines what will happen, where it starts and what is the outcome.

That mindset would start the groundwork for a different perspective on how to take on sustainability. Although, in academia, there may still not be a big or realistic result, it serves as an exercise for oneself that can, again, create a basis for a different mindset.The concept of repurposing already exists, be it remodeling a building, or historical preservation, those are ways in which architects take on sustainability by repurposing what they are working with.  

In the studio

How can students themselves act on sustainability within the circumstances or pressures the studio or academia puts on them. The immediate thought when it comes to architecture studios, is the fun, but sometimes dreadful and expensive model making. One thing students sometimes underthink or do not analyze much is how model making can actually serve as an experimental tool for the design.

Most of the time, students imagine and tell themselves that the models need to be an exact physical representation of what the project is. Which, really is not the point. Instead, students should re-imagine and experiment with the different ways things can be represented. And this is a great example of where one can repurpose materials or objects. 

On a more personal note, one of my previous studios had a big part of the semester concentrated in models for the sake of models. This allowed me, together with my other architecture students to experiment freely without many limitations other than the ones that exist when modelmaking, resources, money, and of course, gravity.

It also let me create models of materials that are not that common or standard in architecture studios. This allowed me to create the model that I am most proud of; a model made out of more than 3,000 toothpicks. Yes, it does not actually serve an architectural purpose, but the possibilities are endless. 

So what can we do to be sustainable?

Now, before deviating from the main purpose of this article, what I want for readers to take from this anecdote is that if you want an opportunity to act, or a sustainable approach, try creating a model out of repurposed materials. Look at the resources you have, and ask yourself how this can turn into a representation of the project.

The toothpicks idea was far from representing architecture. But that is where you need to challenge yourself on how you can transform or use something to your advantage. And simply enough, that is repurposing. And if the start of this article did resonate with you, then you already know that repurposing is just the start of acting sustainably and there are a million ways to take it further.

This article was written by a community member!

Learn more about José Alfredo López Villalobos on our Writers page.

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