Interview: Hütten & Paläste

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The circular minds behind CRCLR’s integrated living and working building project are the founders of the architectural agency Hütten und Paläste- Frank Schönert and Nanni Grau - an agency that focuses on experimental building for extreme locations. Along in years, CRCLR is quite a creative challenge but at the same time a perfect prototype for Frank and Nanni’s architectural vision: an active connection between housing and its surroundings.



Why did you choose to take over the architectural development of the CRCLR House?

Nanni: For us, it’s a great opportunity and a great space. The Rollberg building offers the possibility to implement working and housing in one building, which is not often the case in Berlin. But that is actually a big topic in Berlin: to make the city denser and fill up the empty spaces. So in this project we’re contributing to that.



What is your architectural vision for the CRCLR House?

Nanni: To prove that it’s possible to bring housing, working and cultural usage together in one place. Our vision is to make this architecturally possible.

Frank: CRCLR already has what in an architectural context is called grey energy, which is the total energy consumed throughout the product’s, in this case a building, life cycle from its production to its disposal. We think it’s very important to keep this grey energy, even though investors would typically tell us to tear the whole building down and build new. But we wouldn’t do that – that is a part of the circular economy thinking. We believe in that kind of architecture, and therefore we try to reuse materials. For instance we reused old bricks in the co-working space and greenhouse plates for windows and walls. We want to work like this on a larger scale. The housing part of the building will be made out of reused wood, which can be prefabricated, which also makes the construction process shorter and more efficient.



In your work as architects you’re working with the methods such as “reduction” and “multiprogramming”. What does that mean in practice?

Nanni: Reduction means: Making things simple – not so much technique and not so many details. Low budget projects like that allow us to find out what the essence of the construction is. We’ve done several projects designed to be used for many different uses – e.g. a hut that could be used as a kitchen, living room and bedroom by slightly changing something in the room. That is what we call multiprogramming, and that also makes the designs more sustainable. Let’s take a kitchen as an example: You spend 30 minutes there in the morning and 30 in the evening – not very circular. The flats at Rollberg will be designed in a way that all the rooms have the same size, so you can choose which room you want to use for what. That makes it possible to integrate many different forms of living – it’s very open. Outside of the flats there is going to be a Laubengang – a little hallway to connect the inhabitants with their neighbours. We live in a flat like that ourselves, and we think it’s very nice to know all of your neighbours.

Frank: We see a house as a living environment that is connected to the city. We see it as an organism and try to implement elements that can be interchanged. To open the facade is the easiest way to do that.

the very beginnings of the CRCLR project


What opportunities does CRCLR offer in regard to sustainability?

Frank: We think it’s really great that this place for ongoing circular experiments has opened, and we are really glad to be part of it. We will host a workshop here about circular building. In Germany everything is licensed, it’s very difficult to just build from materials you find. It’s a big new field and a big challenge for us… at one of our first meetings Simon (from Agora Rollberg.) said to me: I want you to design a building out of rubbish. And we said: Okay… why not? Agora Rollberg is anything but usual.



What’s the biggest obstacle in building in a circular way?

Frank: A regenerative design like cradle to cradle works great on a furniture level, but to transfer these ideas to building a house is something completely new. As far as I know, there are so far no houses completely built in the circular economy way. A mass production of such houses is just not possible at the moment.



When we say circular economy, you say:

Yeah! We’re happy to take this into consideration in our work here. This project frees us from the ”having to make money” aspect of architecture. This is much more interesting and inspiring for us personally and professionally.