Windows are fragile. As openings in a wall, they connect the outside and inside spaces, allowing people to look in and look out, and are the eyes of a building. What happens if you remove windows from their context? The work of Berlin architects Raumlabor, the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei and the Dutch companies bureau SLA and Overtreders W have different approaches and ideas for transformation. In recent years, a trend has thus been established that can now be found in temporary pop-up stores, on theatre stages or in trendy bars and cafés: reduce, re-use, recycle!
It was not only the windows that were old when the Noorderparkbar in Amsterdam was built — all of the building materials used were second-hand. The economic crisis, which severely affected Dutch architectural companies, was the trigger for bureau SLA and Overtreders W to initiate a construction made exclusively from used materials. The two companies acted as a fund-raiser, builders' merchant and contractor simultaneously in a bottom-up initiative.
All the building materials were acquired via the Internet marketplace marktplaats.nl. This resulted in an unusual process: Planning and construction had to take place simultaneously, as the range of materials available was constantly changing and it was only once the acceptance of a bid for an item had been secured that planning could continue with the respective components.
The supporting structure of the Noorderparkbar consists of the steel frame of three system modules that were previously used in a hospital. One of the modules was given a new façade made from windows of various sizes, with a cover consisting of various fanlights. The terrace in front is framed by two modules stacked on top of one another. The pavilion can be closed all the way around with folding shutters to protect it against vandalism.
In addition to the three hospital system components, 42 windows, several thousand metres of wood, 55 litres of paint, two toilets, green and white tiles and numerous other individual items, mostly leftovers from DIY renovations, were used. The interior walls of the bar consist of parts from a transport crate used to transport a milk bottling machine from China to the Netherlands. The wood for the folding shutters came from a bankrupt shuttering manufacturer.
Images: (c) bureau SLA & Overtreders W, Amsterdam
Colleagues from Raumlabor in Berlin created a temporary exhibition space from old windows. In 2012, the group of architects brought the windows of a building in Berlin to Shanghai. The windows had already been thrown into a rubbish bin. As part of the Shanghai Biennale, the windows of a residential house built by the architect Richard Paulick in what used to be Stalinallee, now renamed Karl-Marx-Allee, found their way to the Chinese metropolis. The architects have one of their two offices in the Paulick building. When the windows in this building were replaced with new models made from insulating glass, Raumlabor saved the majority of the Paulick windows in order to build the Berlin Pavilion at Biennale from the elements. Richard Paulick, who studied under Walter Gropius and as a communist had to flee from Nazi Germany in 1933, finally lived and worked in exile in Shanghai until 1949.
The temporary installation "The International Ghost" in an old office hall at the Shanghai Biennale was a hybrid of two buildings by Richard Paulick. His first design, the famous steel house in Dessau, was combined with the only building that Paulick had built in China: the Yao Residence. For a while, people in Shanghai looked through old windows towards Berlin. But that was not all. In the Berlin Pavilion made from the Paulick windows, visitors were able to learn about the life and work of the architect over a cup of tea and to discover designs that unfortunately were never built.
Images: (c) Raumlabor
A further construction made from old windows also originates from Dessau and has been in Berlin since last summer. Whereas these windows used to look out on to the Dessau Bauhaus, they now look out over Berlin's "Grüne Wiese". The pavilion is a mobile and temporary building made from two orange Hapag-Lloyd containers from Hamburg on the former airfield in Tempelhof. The special feature: It consists of two re-used floor-to-ceiling original window elements from the Bauhaus in Dessau.
According to the wishes of the Bauhaus foundation, the windows from 1976, discarded as part of the latest renovation of the Bauhaus in Dessau were to be used for a meaningful purpose. At the same time in Berlin, the search was under way for a temporary building for the pioneering "Lernort Natur" project at Tempelhof Airport, a project that allows people to learn about nature. The pavilion needed to be usable for one to two years, be mobile, be made from recycled materials, offer storage space and be able to function as a "green classroom".
"To a certain extent the windows from Dessau were superfluous, so there was a meeting of building materials and demand," remembers Robert Huber, the initiator of the "Bauhaus re-use pavilion" project. "We thought of the shipping containers because, by coincidence, they have similar dimensions to the Bauhaus windows." With his recycling-proven, forward-looking, non-trading partnership, Huber developed the idea of merging the Dessau window elements with the containers to make a temporary building that could be completely dismantled and reused.
It was the most spectacular work of art for documenta 12: As Ai Weiwei installed 1001 doors and windows from traditional buildings of the Ming and Qing dynasty (1368 – 1911) on a base in the Karlsaue Park in Kassel in 2007, he wanted to bring to mind houses that had fallen victim to the Chinese construction boom. "Template" was the name of the monumental tower that, not far from the Aue Pavilion, became one of the most photographed objects of the art exhibition. The Chinese artist had mounted and arranged the wooden doors and windows into four wings so that they represented the hollow chamber of a temple pavilion. Four days after the opening, "Template" collapsed in a storm and sank onto the meadow like a ship's propeller — one day before the arrival of a prospective buyer. "It's better than it was before," stated Ai Weiwei happily. "Now the force of nature is visible." Due to the destruction of the artwork, the reminder of the demolished houses became even more powerful as a symbol of the disappearance, and the price doubled.