Please upgrade your browser

For the best experience, you should upgrade your browser. Visit our accessibility page to view a list of supported browsers along with links to download the latest version.

ADS11: Deconstruction / Re-Use

Tutors: Renaud Haerlingen, Manon Portera, Victor Meester, Joseph Mercer & ROTOR


Architecture is one of the most energy intensive and wasteful industries on earth. Each year millions of tonnes of potentially re-usable building materials – timber, concrete, metals, prefabricated systems and fixtures – are destroyed or wasted in the process of demolishing or refitting existing buildings. In response to this wastage, ADS11 will investigate how architects can research, deconstruct and design architecture as a way to recycle and meaningfully contribute to circular economies. What does it mean to deconstruct one building in order to make another?

Rotor, Grindbakken, 2012
Rotor, Grindbakken, 2012

Despite the best intentions of policy makers, making re-use happen in practice remains a challenge today: legal frameworks need to be adapted; public authorities must be brought to modify their procedures; designers need to change in their working methods; and a network of new actors – who are ready to get their hands dirty – must be set up. In short, a whole new specialised economy needs to be developed. ADS11 will examine those challenges, discussing what pitfalls to avoid and the tips and tricks to develop in order to make re-use architecturally viable.


For us ‘deconstruction’ refers to a form of reverse assembly – the careful dismantling of the constituent parts of a building. Contrary to traditional demolition, which is destructive, deconstruction aims at the re-use of components. By using salvaged parts, not only do you reduce the quantity of demolition waste, but you also acquire quality building materials while having a negligible environmental impact. Diverting these elements from the waste stream is a form of preservation that is complementary to the efforts of established actors in historical building preservation.

Historically, it was just plain common sense not to trash sound material – most building components were re-used, often more than once. Today, the approach to matter in the construction sector is split between the preservationist stance, on the one hand, which carefully preserves entire buildings for heritage purposes, and, on the other, the unapologetic replacement of the existing with the new. In this context, dismantling and re-use have become marginal practices.

Lafayette, Paris, 2017. Image: Rotor
Lafayette, Paris, 2017. Image: Rotor


ADS11 will examine practices of deconstructing existing architectures, working with a series of sites and collaborators to develop an understanding of the methods and design possibilities of dismantling and reuse. What are the logistics of deconstructing buildings? And the potentials and limitations of re-use? What is it to design architecture starting with the fragment, or the residue of past architectures? The studio will work with the recovery of materials, design and construction, as well as research and exhibitions. One common thread unites all these activities – we will begin with existing conditions.

ADS11 believes in working in collaboration. In 2018/19 we will collaborate with Rotor and a series of guests and partners. These conversations and practical and design explorations will inform our work. In a sense, the year will be a continuous immersion in the ethics and practice of deconstruction and re-use – examining the real-world impacts of our designs and constructions. Not only will ADS11 ask questions about sustainability and reuse, but also a different approach to history and historical production as a source of innovation.

Field Visit to Opalis Resellers, 2017
Field Visit to Opalis Resellers, 2017


Renaud Haerlingen, Manon Portera, Victor Meester and Joseph Mercer are members of Rotor – a Belgium-based collective of architects and designers who share a common interest in the material flows of industry and construction. Through publications, lectures, and exhibitions, Rotor develops critical positions on design, material resources, waste and reuse. Rotor represented Belgium at the Venice Architecture Biennial in 2010 and, in 2011, curated the exhibition, Ex Limbo, for the Fondazione Prada, Milan, on the history of Prada’s catwalks. In 2011, they curated and designed OMA/Progress at the Barbican, London, and in 2013 they curated at the Triennial Architecture, Oslo, under the title Behind the Green Door, focussing on the consequences and paradoxes of sustainability as a dominant paradigm within architectural design and urban planning.