Zero Waste Church

Education for Circular Reuse of Religious Buildings

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While heritage conservation is usually associated with the action of “keeping”, circular approaches are often seen as focusing on flexibility, and disassembly. Both share the common goal of using existing resources efficiently and avoiding waste. The conservation of cultural heritage is a complex issue that requires a cautious balance between maintaining heritage values associated with tangible and intangible attributes and managing change to answer the challenges of future use. On the one hand, mining the urban environment for material resources, risks irreparable damage to the historic urban fabric. On the other hand, salvaging components from heritage buildings and re-purposing them can be a sustainable strategy to extend a buildings’ lifetime and minimize construction waste. In the case of buildings threatened by demolition, as several churches in the Netherlands, salvaging components might even be the only way to keep (some) of this heritage alive. In these cases, circular design approaches need to go beyond inventorying materials and components: the traceability of values and meanings to the involved communities become key factors driving reuse strategies. The Zero Waste Church graduation studio at TU Delft provides architecture students with the opportunity to discuss how heritage values might shift to integrate sustainability as a value to preserve. The students selected cases based on three key circularity principles: refuse, reduce, and value retention. By choosing vacant buildings, the students were prompted to refuse the notion of building new and to value space as a limited resource. Some of the selected buildings faced demolition, resulting in projects that have the potential to reduce material waste. Through a heritage value assessment, the students demonstrated that despite being under threat, these heritage buildings still add value to local communities. Students explored creative approaches to redesign from values related to tangible and intangible attributes. This approach aims at instigating awareness and transformative attitudes towards the built environment. Individual students approach the challenge from different perspectives, contributing to a multitude of readings and strategies to deal with the complexity of bridging heritage and circularity. The implementation of the first edition of the Zero Waste studio faced challenges when conflicts arose in determining what to keep, add or transform. A key learning from this experience is that circularity needs to be an integrated part of a design project from the earliest stages. While a fully zero waste heritage may be an unachievable ambition, the aim is to trigger reflection and adopt an explorative approach towards a project.