Re:build the future! Less regulation and more creative freedom to promote innovative and sustainable architecture!
Munich, 25 April 2023 | These days, the architecture and construction industry is overloaded with countless building regulations and standards. And as a society we have tried – and so far failed – to solve the housing crisis, meet our climate action goals and stimulate economic growth. In this environment, it is no wonder that sustainable, quick-fix solutions are in huge demand. Some advocate renovating the building stock as a solution, but that can be a lengthy, costly and highly complex endeavour. Timo Brehme is the founder and Managing Partner of architecture and consulting firm CSMM, which has built a reputation over the past two decades for its visionary office architecture and workplace designs in Germany and abroad, and he is calling on policymakers to reduce the burden of excessive regulation. “Time is running out for all of us. We need to embrace a visionary approach to the building projects we urgently need,” Bremer contends. “As architects, it is up to us – through our design and consulting work – to create architecture of possibility that is environmentally sustainable, economically viable and made with real people in mind. We are ready to do what it takes, but so far our hands are tied.”
For some time now, building regulations have been a major cost driver in the construction industry. “When we design buildings, we are often forced to apply the maximum – and most costly – standards, instead of looking at what is actually necessary from a structural engineering perspective,” Brehme explains. “Our focus should be on what is required for the intended use, and we need more leeway to find smart solutions.” But what are the specific obstacles making the construction process so difficult and so time-consuming? And what are the most effective tools available to planners and architects that want to renovate existing buildings? After all, revitalisation one of the most powerful tools in the sustainability toolbox, and we should be pursuing it with the urgency it deserves.
Based on a December 2020 survey of architects with a long track record in revitalisation, Architects for Future (A4F) found that: "Regulatory requirements for sound and fire protection are the biggest obstacles for most architects when it comes to building with existing structures.” The fact that building renovations are subject to the same standards as new builds further complicates the situation. Of course, various waivers and compensations are available if certain features of existing buildings don’t comply with current standards, but that always requires more effort and resources. According to Timo Brehme and the team at CSMM, “To make the existing building stock climate neutral as quickly as possible, we have to change the existing regulations, from the Building Energy Act to current zoning laws and building codes.”
Promoting ‘architecture of possibility’ can increase property value
The so-called ‘Building Type E’ is just one example of a novel, less complex solution that gives developers more creative freedom when it comes to revitalising the building stock. As advocated by the Federal Chamber of architects, this building type would only be subject to the standards mandated by construction law and not those more focused on comfort. Building Type E, where E stands for einfach (i.e., simple), but also for “experimental”, could potentially be added to the existing classification system in the building code. Property owners would be able to work with their architects and builders to define the standards they want to implement in their development.
“Reducing the core requirements would allow more creative freedom for innovative sustainable solutions and would also provide additional financial leeway,” says Timo Brehme. “Our main mission is to make the best possible use of the existing space to meet the requirements of different occupants and to find smart structural solutions that accommodate hybrid concepts and flexible floorplans.” This is exactly the kind of consulting projects CSMM has worked on for years as the committed partner for a wide range of investors. “We like to call this ‘architecture of possibility’.
It’s about designing architectural shells that give owners and tenants countless different options for use over time, from hotel rooms to offices. Mind you, these changes don’t have to take place over a period of years, you can even change the floorplan within a single day, for example, if occupants are using a space for one purpose by day and another by night,” Brehme contends. “If we don’t have the room to grow geographically, then we must be smarter about how we use our existing space. This is the only way to accommodate demand as it changes over time and to add value in a socially responsible way.”
The best way to drive innovation is through regulatory reform
The current government – a so-called ‘traffic light coalition’ made up of red (SPD), yellow (FDP) and green (Green Party) – has set itself the goal of simplifying the building code to incentivise developers to build more housing. However, to pave the way for the new Building Type E, the government would first have to amend the German Civil Code (BGB). This reform would allow a building classified as Type E to be considered deficiency-free as long as it provides the protections mandated by the building code and complies with the terms of the development contract. Timo Brehme sums it up as follows: “This would give us a simple and legally compliant way to establish that a building is not deficient per se simply because it doesn’t meet all of the current building standards. As experts in forward-looking architectural and interior design, we see it as our responsibility to actively support this process – and drive innovation in architecture and construction.”
In 2023, CSMM is celebrating its 20th anniversary under the banner “Re:build the future” to highlight the untapped potential in today’s building industry.
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CSMM – architecture matters
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