Three questions for: Césare Peeren
Superuse Studios intends to make its contribution towards creating a better world by designing beautiful, but above all, well-functioning architectural and social design concepts that make use of existing materials and systems. Specifically, this means that by using local resources and waste for their projects and products, they are striving for a more sustainable society.
The Superuse Studios was founded in 1997 by Césare Peeren and Jan Jongert, who are now considered to number amongst the pioneers of sustainable design. Their objective is not only to realise successful projects on an international level, but also to make their methods and ideas available to the entire community via open source. Through the use of resources that are frequently discarded this has not only become the norm and inspiration for their own design processes but also for those of many other designers, too. Five engineers and specialists from innovation, design, architecture, urbanism, and research are currently working in the studio. Their skills are combined in very different ways for the respective projects creating a flexible and simply applied approach that, in turn, facilitates a whole range of projects.
Césare Peeren took some time at the social design conference, What Design Can Do, to tell us more about his work and vision for the future.
1. Why did you decide to work with waste products?
It was not a coincidence at all. It is entwined with the way my entire life has developed. Back when I was a child, I used to help my father build houses. He bought old wrecks and then we restored them again. I used to pull nails out of the wood and so on, and then we used them again for building. When renovating, we always used materials that were already present in the building.
So, it became second nature to me. When I look back, it seems just logical that this is the way things worked out. Because in nature it works the same way. Nature does not create waste. Waste is something that we have created, but actually waste is something that is in the wrong place at the wrong time. Our society sees itself more as a linear system, in nature, everything works in a cycle and ensures that it can continue and it adapts itself continuously. We humans always try to cling on to everything and we’re not very good at it in reality, because as soon as we stop maintaining something, a building, for example, begins to decay directly.
It’s true, we change a lot, but actually shy away from real change. We tend to make linear processes even greater, which means that landfill sites become even bigger. So it is important to analyse these processes well and then to see how they can be reduced and how they can be better combined with one another.
2. When you start a project, do you begin with a specific material or waste product – or do you start in the traditional way with the client’s problem statement?
Both approaches are possible. I might have a material that has positive qualities that I’d like to make more popular, to show that it’s a good material for building urban models, for example. However, generally, we get an assignment and then look around to see which materials can be found in the environment and on the site. Is a building already there? Are there trees? What is in the immediate environment? Are there businesses? What kind of businesses are they and what do they produce? Every business that makes something produces waste. It's not a question of a bag of waste but of large quantities. Washing machines, for example: for one project, we took 20 old washing machines. In Rotterdam alone, every month 50,000 washing machines are recycled from throughout the whole country – and this is in just a small country like the Netherlands with a population of 16 million people.
It’s true, a lot is recycled already, but actually recycling is actually a rather bizarre concept to me. You dig raw materials out of the earth, something that requires a lot of energy, then you produce something from it, like the blade of a wind turbine – and when you don’t need it anymore a few years later, it’s shredded. From the waste material, you can, in certain circumstances, for example, manufacture insulation material but most of it is burnt and that equates to almost 4,500 kilos. I am not only interested in the material itself but also in the work and the effort that everyone has invested in producing it. In this situation, the majority is produced by hand. This magnificent object that is completely destroyed during the recycling process isn’t waste to me, but simply an object that is in the wrong place.
3. Are you also looking for waste not only made of interesting materials but with an emotional value?
Functional value. The functional value is the most important thing for me. I never use things solely as decoration, so you could also say that I am looking for ways to recycle things with a function. The example of wind turbines demonstrates that it is not only a question of putting these beautiful objects in a playground, but they also have a functional value. Children can climb inside the blades and play there, too, in a similar way as they would in a regular playground. This function is found to be already in the material itself.
It should never be the case that this is the only application option for this material or that I want to use only this material. There are materials that we have used so often that other people are interested in them, too. And that is good. These processes and materials are becoming accepted slowly, but surely. I don’t want it to be a secret and that’s why we have set up the online platform oogstkaart.nl. Anyone can register there and see on a world map, which materials can be used for a particular purpose and where you can obtain these materials. This is often done with the help of a so called scout, a middleman, who represents the business and helps with the organisation. Sometimes, however, it is possible to contact the business directly. Also the 12,000 projects on superuse.org are connected with websites like oogstkaart.nl or harvestmap.nl in order to inspire designers to engage in recycling and act as an exampe. I very much hope that more designers and architects will embrace this knowledge in the future.