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Microarchitecture as a way of revitalising old building substance

One of the primary tasks of microarchitectural objects / buildings when implanted in old building substance is to connect new and old, traditional and modern elements in a total architectural and material dramaturgy, to bring the existing material to life in a non-invasive, and both financially and aesthetically economic way.

Depending on the subject matter/type of building/use, the pointed use of low tech and high tech can develop the existing identity and harmonise it with the new identity, so that all facets of the history of a location are visible simultaneously. The bridge between (a building's) history and the present day opens many windows of vision and understanding. It makes possible a new, positive encounter with times past and thus facilitates the understanding of its beauty by young people in particular. The proverbial implantation of a new architectural/thematic heart, the creation/restoration of a publicly effective, micro-climatic niche in the midst of the urban culture can even function in impossible locations, as the Erich Kästner Museum and the "Construction Site Germany" project have shown.

This living preservation of historic monuments fulfils the condition of maintaining them and transporting them into the present/future. Perhaps it is precisely the other vision of the multi-disciplinary architect as a thinker and artist which makes it possible to extract the essence of an architectural or urban development topic or subject and make it usable and accessible to many on multiple levels via a wide range of instruments. The Erich Kästner Museum in Dresden (www.erich-kaestner-museum.de) is an excellent example of this.

This minimalist, multifunctional micromuseum® forms an interface between architecture, art, sculpture and utensil. It is simultaneously an autonomous total work of art, information sculpture, medium for central thoughts on exhibition concepts and a unique interactive tool. The philosophical, poetic and pragmatic ideas behind this novel concept which is geared toward resource-saving thought, flexible growth and a new didactic concept of independent activity have helped almost 25,000 visitors of all ages, especially children and young people, to understand the contents consciously and unconsciously and have inspired them to liberate their own creative and intellectual strengths. The micromuseum® is designed in autonomous levels, not only constructively, but also in terms of the content and concept, which means that every time an active visitor accesses the museum, whether for light entertainment or intensive academic research purposes, they are rewarded with success.

The past and the future are linked to one another with minimal space requirements by using new media, thus removing all spatial boundaries. Microarchitecture fulfils all requirements for 1:1 projection into the virtual world, which continues to grow in importance. Moreover, the future, the unknown is incorporated in microarchitectural solutions in a wide variety of ways.

Economical, customised thinking and building is particularly important for old building substance. "Away from the walls" means minimising changes to the existing building substance while simultaneously availing of increased creative opportunities. Microarchitectural buildings are capable of growth and movement in many ways. One of their strengths is that they can be installed virtually anywhere. As autonomous, high-publicity identity bearers, they can theoretically be implanted or implemented anywhere, revealing their sculptural and spatial fascination. Visitors of all ages experience a playful approach to architecture via its compactness and clarity. The contents of this flexible store can also be modified and expanded in accordance with the state of research. This kind of novel "small is beautiful" approach, which combines sensual, real elements in a special dramaturgy with media technology also corresponds with the current and future developments in knowledge transfer in the communication and education fields.

Microarchitectural approaches to thinking and solving problems - whether in the form of installations, objects or entire buildings - are always holistically oriented and seek synergetic relationships to the surrounding macroarchitecture as a healthy pluralism.

Lecture - Microarchitectural implantations - Vaasa Polytechnic, Finnland - Autumn of 2002.

Sustainable building and microarchitecture:

Mans instinct for using creatively what he finds in his immediate environment is intuitive and natural. To see this in action one should observe children using cardboard boxes as space ships, boats, cars etc. With imagination and the pragmatic ability to accept the resources that are to hand, a child sees the potential in simple things. Later in life it is important not to lose this inventiveness and ability to "see" what is often "not there".

Searching for and discovering the potential of existing building substance makes ecological sence. Breathing new life into existing structures is a challenge facing us and future generations, in the past, the all too easy solution of ripping down and building new structures has proved to be a wasteful and costly exercise/indulgence. It is a waste of materials and a waste of the often unseen locked/captured energy that is in a building. This wasted energy then needs to be replaced by new energy being expended to replace what had already existed. In recent times we have also started to become aware of our loss of heritage, meaning and Identity in our built environment as a result of such short term practices. This has led to a greater awareness and interest in concepts that try and work with the existing fabric. The rewards are plentiful as the possible symbiosis between old and new can help generations understand each other through the diversity of the life and history which is demonstrated in a built form that bridges the past with the future, a future with which we all can identify ourselves.

Microarchitectural implantations:

Valuable building qualities such as the interior and the integrity of a building can be saved with the sensitive implantations of compact contemporary architectural elements that give the building a new life force. These microarchitectural implantations can offer an existing structure a new lease of life. Such implantations are re-newable, can be part of a greater network, can be changed, adapted and are recyclable without having a great impact on the existing structure/substance. They are "light" and powerful at the same time. Such "objects" or insertions, could be perceived as being "archibiological" in nature and can create an exciting dialogue between old and new. With the advance of new technology, where it is evident that the "size" or "largeness" of an object has less to do its importance, quality is accessed more and more in terms of energy consumption or space consumption. Mobile telephones , laptops, are all powerful examples of this development and are influential small tools that influence our life disproportionably to the inherent space/room and energy they consume. They demonstrate very effectively a change of perspective in our "value" system. The devil is in the detail, microarchitecture uses the word micro (also implying by its absence the macro/context, that is ever present) to remind us that architecture is, among other things, also the sum of small parts. The importance of these small parts is often forgotten, the word microarchitecture should remind us just how important the detail is and the role it plays in determining the whole. "Less is more" is a phrase that we have often heard in discussions about architecture, its initial meaning may have had to do with a reduction in aesthetical terms, less decoration, but I use this phrase in an ecological sence implying that with less material and with a sparing use of the resources available, one can achieve more in the long term, therefore "Doing more with less!". One should always be aware of the space, materials and energy one expends when working. Learning to see the hidden potential in the existing built environment or the ability to think "cubistic", seeing the whole with less information, are strengths one should work on. There is no such thing as complete or finished! There is only process. "Change" must be part of your architectural concept, durability and sustainability can only exist where there is flexibility and diversity. Architecture does not have to be a kind of photorealism producing perfect aesthetical images of frozen moments or an aesthetical dictatorship of good taste, a building should be seen as a living organism, accepting and causing change/interaction. Implied space can create space, time movement and space require gaps/moments between, perhaps even unfinished moments/spaces that allow things/accidents to happen. In that way there is no end to the possibilities and a timelessness could be achieved!

Ruairi O´Brien, October 2002


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