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sustainable design: reversibility in buildings and interiors

in sustainable cities

In an effort to move the design industry towards more sustainable standards, reversibility is a key concept.

Speaking of architecture and interiors in particular, let’s explore how reversibility can change the way we design and build.

temporary buildings

Installations, pop-up stores, event pavilions…there are many examples of buildings that are designed and constructed knowing they’ll be dismantled after a short time. These are the first buildings and interiors where reversibility should become the norm.

An example is Brasserie 2050, a pop-up restaurant built on the occasion of a festival. The main structure is made with metal racking systems (the same used to build storage in warehouses), and the roof is obtained with corrugated plastic panels. These are simple material choices that – at the same time – achieve the perfect barn-like feel for the project. Indoors, sacks filled with grains add weight to the structure, tables and seating are made of recycled plastic, and vertical herb gardens add interest and a level of privacy shielding the view from the outdoors.

Knowing the building was going to be short-lived, all materials needed to bring this restaurant to life were borrowed. At the end of the event, they could all be easily recovered and given a new destination, dismantling the structure completely and without waste.

Temporary restaurant structure built with reusable materials and reversible methods.
Credit: Overtreders W – Ph: Jorn van Eck
Front view of the temporary restaurant, with vertical plantings.
Credit: Overtreders W – Ph: Jorn van Eck
Inside view of the temporary restaurant, with plants hanging from the ceiling.
Credit: Overtreders W – Ph: Jorn van Eck

fair booths

Fair booths are important for brands: they need to communicate their identity and showcase their products in the best possible way. But they too are temporary buildings, hence a great candidate for reversibility. In this case, reversibility could take two forms. Either the materials are salvaged and reused in other projects, or they could travel with the brand from fair to fair, making sense of the investment and effort that goes into their design.

An example is Vestre’s booth at Stockholm Furniture & Light Fair 2020. The entire stand is made with simple materials. Plywood panels make the outdoor structure, internal partitions are obtained by stacking red bricks, and gravel makes the flooring. To maximize reusability, materials are left as raw as possible: plywood sheets are uncut and kept in place without glue or screws, and bricks are not cemented.

All these material choices are brilliant from a circularity standpoint, but also make perfect sense being Vestre an outdoor furniture brand! All this is to say that a more responsible approach to fair booth design can and should still embrace the identity of the brand it represents.

View of the fair booth with gravel floor and brick walls.
Credit: Vestre – Design: Note Design Studio
Close-up view of a brick platfom to display products.
Credit: Vestre – Design: Note Design Studio
Close-up view of a brick wall partitioning the space.
Credit: Vestre – Design: Note Design Studio

The concept of reversibility is becoming a thing in fair booth design. At Supersalone 2021 in Milan, the entire interior structure was made with recycled wood panels and stacked bricks, using reversible dry assembly methods. And for Milan’s Salone 2022, exhibitors will be given explicit guidelines to achieve better circularity in their stands.

View of the project for Supersalone.
Credit: Stefano Boeri Interiors
Close-ip of the recycled wood panels at Supersalone.
Credit: anooi studio
View of a showcase structure made with recycled wood at Supersalone.
Credit: anooi studio
View of a showcase structure made with bricks at Supersalone.
Credit: anooi studio

extending reversibility

If reversibility feels like an obvious choice for temporary structures, could it be extended to all buildings and interiors?

Well, if we think about it, very few (if any) buildings and interiors are meant to be immutable forever. And even when they are made to last, incorporating reversibility principles would make repairs easier, helping them to last even longer.

Sure enough, designing with reversibility in mind requires some changes in the process but it has been done already, proving that it can indeed be done! tour a reversible and biophilic office building →

Interior office space designed with disassembly in mind.
Credit: RAU Architects – Ph: Alexander van Berge

Reversibility is a new skill to learn for architects and designers but one that would make the whole industry a lot more sustainable, reducing its impact on the environment and optimizing the use of resources.

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