Designing Deconstruction
An online platform and research programme, later supported by a deconstruction consultancy, to make informed connections between designers and secondary resources—redesigning systems of construction to include secondary materials


In order to decarbonise, the construction industry needs to shift radically from linear to circular design and economies in which re-use and reconstruction replace systems that rely on the production of new objects and spaces from raw materials and often end in obsolescence. As the Belgian design practice Rotor observe in their rationale for developing the online platform opalis.eu, there is nothing innovative about reusing materials — re-use “is a practice that is as old as building itself” — but barriers often prevent even the most well-intentioned designers and builders from embracing second-hand building materials.1‘Opalis’, Rotor <https://rotordb.org/en/projects/opalis> [accessed 6 October 2022]. These barriers are manifold. For example, in a market dominated by large multinational suppliers and standard specification tools, it can be hard for a designer to identify and locate smaller, independent salvage dealers. In addition, the scarcity of information on what salvage materials are available, and of reliable data on materials’ performance and usability means that designers usually opt for more standardised options. These standardised options are usually new, mass-produced materials obtained through intensive and extractive methods. 


Opalis.eu began as a project to map salvage dealers within one hour’s drive from Brussels, where Rotor are based. The project has since grown to cover the rest of Belgium, as well as parts of France and the Netherlands. Rotor visited, photographed, and profiled salvage dealers, developing the website as a catalogue. To address the lack of information about available materials and how they could be used, Rotor developed Material Sheets, which are also embedded within the website. Recently, the website has included a database of completed projects providing examples of design as deconstruction in practice, documenting processes at various stages from demolition to re-use. The project has also generated a summer school anticipating “a dramatic growth of the salvage and remanufacturing industry”.2‘Opalis Germany / Thirty to one – KIT’, Rotor <https://rotordb.org/en/projects/opalis-germany-thirty-one-kit> [accessed 6 October 2022].

Rotor took the design of deconstruction one step further in 2016 through the creation of sub-practice RotorDC (Rotor Deconstruction Consulting), providing their guidance as spatial practitioners for demolition. RotorDC work to deconstruct in ways that increase the flow and quality of salvaged materials feeding back into the re-use sector. 

Opalis.eu introduces salvage as a concept into the professional sector, allowing architects to engage with more types of resources by making their sources accessible as well as making it easier to use different types of materials. Its name, Latin for gemstones, reclaims a sense of value in so-called waste materials.  


External links

Superusea studio dedicated to re-use and upcycling of secondary materials, and authors of an influential book on the subject (see above)

BC Architects and BC Materials—both part of an “integrated architectural office, research and education co(l)laboratory and material production co-operative” in Brussels