Debris - Dip 18, AA School

Demolition triggers a cascade of unwanted materials, which are typically channelled towards recycling (which really means crushing into aggregate), landfill (though in the UK little space is left for this) or waste-to-energy plants (meaning incineration, which entails long-distance shipping and toxic emissions). Since DIP18 is dedicated to investigating material flows, the demolition site is perhaps our ur-site. This year, the unit has asked: what other paths can we imagine – and help implement, right now – for materials condemned by the demolish-and-develop economic system? 

Students began by mapping active and imminent demolition sites in London, then selected a site or building with potential and worked backwards or forwards in time from there, raising many questions along the way. Some imagined what the road-not-taken might look like, designing the adaptive reuse of perfectly sound modernist buildings otherwise earmarked for destruction. What repairs, additions and programmatic adjustments could make continued use possible? Should we reverse the modernist dictum and insist that, from now on, function follows form– that we should adapt to existing architecture rather than bending and breaking the world to our will? 

Other students designed new systems to ensure the salvage of materials from doomed buildings. This prompted us to consider what new roles are needed in the world of architecture and construction to facilitate efficient reclamation and the reintegration of used building materials into architecture, or into the reuse market. What changes in legislation and vision should we advocate to make this happen? How do we rehabilitate unfashionable materials like black granite, and how do we remediate unsafe materials, revealing inherent values and inventing new applications? 

And what are the implications – aesthetic and otherwise –of integrating larger amounts of second-hand building materials into otherwise new buildings? Might this generate a new definition of preservation – something less burdened, but also less subjective? Should we simply have a new category of listing that states ‘do not demolish’?

For the student projects, see the AA School website

A project by

Aude-Line Dulière and James Westcott with the help of Arne Vande Capelle

Academic year

2021 - 2022

Student team

Amaya Hernandez, Chia Cheng Ng, Dana Wazni, Giulia Rosa, Haoran Wang, Mira Oktay, Wing Nga Tam, Winnie Ng, Zemin You, Yi Huang