Back to the future? Low-tech strategies for building in the 21st cen-tury

“Simplexity” stands for the use of “high-tech” building materials as a prerequisite for the “low-tech” use of them. There is a fine line between mechanization and simplification. However, digitalization enables forward-thinking planning that evaluates the pros and cons of both sides. In a panel discussion, the experts explain how this works—summarized by our author Tim Westphal.

Beyond ideological patterns that are behind the social excursions of the 20th century (capitalism and socialism), we are facing the question of what post-growth economy, which is emerging globally and for the next years, entails. And what impact does this have on our cohabitation, architecture, and urban space? Andrea Vetter, Konzeptwerk Neue Ökonomie e.V., addresses these challenges in her work and research. In her keynote speech “Convivial Technology”, she showed that a society beyond programmatic ideologies relies on completely new tools, on participation and a new community. She summarized the necessary tools as convivial tools and conceived a convivial city in the city of the future—in the sense of a life-affirming place that is worth living and offers new qualities. And she also raised the question on the appropriateness of complex, highly technical architecture. Andrea Vetter strongly emphasized that we should always react adequately with building, which especially applies to the technical complexity, sustainability, and resilience of our (urban) architectures.

Low-tech systems in construction are anything but a step backward. On the contrary, as Prof. Eike Roswag-Klinge, TU Berlin, Natural Building Lab / ZRS Architect made clear in his keynote speech “Envelope beats technology—resilient building with natural building materials.” If we want to make building more resource-efficient and sustainable in the future, we must rely on intelligent materials and systems that conserve valuable and rare raw materials and aim at benefits arising from reuse and recycling. To this end, he is conducting research, for example for the (H)House project—an EU research project dedicated to a healthy indoor climate thanks to innovative materials and constructions. Two materials he referred to repeatedly were clay and wood. They are also the basic materials for a climate-active building system and a climate-active building envelope made of clay and wood, which are already being used in initial projects.

Julian Weyer and Constantin Mercier, CF Møller Architects, continued with a project in “their own cause”, as a building for the federal government. In their keynote presentation “Competition BMU extension”, they highlighted their winning design and its special features. This project is also about simple answers to complex technical challenges. The goal: building qualities that are created primarily by returning to architectural and design solutions in line with simplexity. For the architectural office, which has been successful for over 100 years, simple basic rules that are consistently applied to architecture are valid until today. The BMU extension project for the Federal Minister of the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU) brings together many aspects. These include site-specific design, a sophisticated energy concept that focuses on the multiple use of necessary technical equipment, and a comprehensive analysis of variants in advance of implementation planning—i. e. looking at what can be technically implemented as simply as possible and with what structure. In addition, building development includes a long-term forecast up to the year 2045, involving comprehensive simulations and calculations of sunny days under changing climatic conditions. Their conclusion: low tech is by no means less complex than high tech.

In the concluding discussion round, which was hosted by savvy Bauwelt editor Jan Friedrich, it became clear: high-tech buildings are not the future of our architecture. Instead, individual design decisions must always be made to decide whether elaborate technical systems and complicated operating processes are necessary—or whether it makes more sense to use low-tech variants. All participants agreed: energy saving in the building sector remains the major challenge in construction and operation. However, the effort, costs and benefits of energy saving and efficient operation must always be monitored. After all, energy and resources are equally conserved with simple, resilient architecture, because it can be flexibly adapted to changing requirements over the entire service life of the building.

by Tim Westphal


BAU Magazine Messe München—The magazine of the World World's Leading Trade Fair for Architecture, Materials and Systems.

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