ACC Lectures 2024 | Lecture 01 | Sascha Roesler

Revisiting “Stoffwechsel”

In his lecture, Prof. Sascha Roesler will address architecture as a practice that always requires the extraction, processing, construction, adaptation, and disposal of materials and represents a complex interweaving of places on local and global scales.

The German term “Stoffwechsel” was coined in the 19th century by such prominent figures as Karl Marx and Gottfried Semper. In the light of their writings, “Stoffwechsel” highlights equally the “transformability of materials” in architecture (Ákos Moravánszky) and the “metabolic regimes” of urban systems (Timothy Morton).

Based on these two fundamental meanings, Roesler will present historical and contemporary case studies from different parts of the world that shed light on how architects can be involved in processes of “Stoffwechsel”.

Sascha Roesler is an architect and architectural theorist, working at the intersection of architecture, ethnography, and science and technology studies. He is the Associate Professor for Theory of Urbanization and Urban Environments at the Academy of Architecture in Mendrisio, Switzerland (Università della Svizzera Italiana).


21 thoughts on “ACC Lectures 2024 | Lecture 01 | Sascha Roesler

  1. Fabrizio B.

    Architect Sasha Roesler showed his theoretical reflection on the creation of buildings by us humans and wondered if it was more a matter of genetics or culture, alluding in particular to the species of ants or monkeys. From my point of view, we must unite to the other living species as we all seek primordially to protect ourselves from external events, placing this “limit” that for us has become the concept of dwelling. On the other hand, as animal species differ in constructing different solutions, also due to reasons of different shapes and sizes between species, we humans also adopt different solutions due to our cultural roots and geographical context (they are related).
    Through his case studies then, he managed to touch on different points of view of the concept of limit. In New Gourna it stands out that the architect has underestimated the natural material used, which needs maintenance over time, with the will of the resident population to change village, an unwritten limit but which is clearly visible. He also addressed the question of the formal limit with the balconies of the construction of Casablanca, also due to a cultural fact like Sumatra, where despite the possibility of building in concrete continue to build some buildings with wood and branches.

  2. Angela Dalia

    Buongiorno ho presenziato alla conferenza dell’Architetto Sascha Roesler, ho apprezzato il metodo che ha utilizzato per farci riflettere dei limiti imposti dalla crisi climatica che investe non solo le cosiddette metropoli urbanizzate ma purtroppo anche vaste zone ritenute fino a pochi anni fa delle isole vergini e incontaminate, dei veri paradisi terrestri.
    Bisogna rispondere a questo cambiamento, prosegue l’architetto, ripensando ai sempre validi fondamenti dell’architettura, e a ricercare anche attraverso il riutilizzo dei materiali, all’utilizzo di un energia a basso costo e a ZERO emissioni sulla natura , come alle uniche e necessarie “fonti” per fronteggiare questa trasformazione.
    Dei tre casi esposti l’esempio più interessante è sicuramente quello della piantagione di tabacco nell’isola di Sumatra in Indonesia, dove la presenza di edifici per l’essicazione delle foglie di tabacco hanno ancora una struttura che utilizza i materiali tradizionali (legno , canne e fibre naturale come spago) sono la testimonianza che la questione ecologica può e deve essere affrontata con più consapevolezza che le scelte che noi adottiamo possano influenzare e impattare sull’ambiente sia nel bene che nel male.

  3. Gil Shafir

    Prof. Sascha Roesler looks at the building as a creation of either Architects, men or animals.
    The capacity of building something sophisticated involves both genetics and cognitive ability to learn skills.

    He looks at Semper’s diagram and tries to implement it according to a relevant situation to a specific period. The diagram is updated with the evolvement of building materials as well as with their implication on the society (pollution and climate crisis). From the diagram he derives green productions that is not that green when all implications during the process are taken into account. He concludes that questions should be asked as the process progressed.
    His case studies show that social and cultural conditions should be considered, the building structure should act as a directive framework within the wishes and needs of the inhabitants and be “destruction proof” and when possible, should combine vernacular advantages with modern technological advancements.

  4. Mahtab Zohourian Vahidbaghban

    In the lecture on Revisiting Stoffwechsel, Professor Sascha Roesler navigated the concept of limits in architecture as a discipline bound by the cycles of material extraction, processing, construction, adaptation, and disposal. The discourse on Stoffwechsel in architecture urges a reevaluation of how architects can redefine the limits of their practice, advocating for a future where architecture contributes to a more equitable and circular economy. As architects we are bound by a wide range of limits like environmental, economical, social, physical, moral, and etc. Through three case studies in different parts of the world the concept was investigated and also the inevitable consequence of not addressing the important factors that must affect our design choices was noted. As for the first case study which was New Gourna Village in Egypt, The architect Hassan Fathy aimed to produce a new village for the inhabitants using vernacular architecture techniques and local materials and also involved the users in the process of building. However, The fact that the village was then not accepted by the targeted society led to the degradation of the village since this choice of material required maintenance during time. Moreover, in the second case study which was the design of housing in Casablanca, the architect had one main concept in mind which was patio and used it as the main architectural element defining his design. However the result was then again not accepted by the users as the architect expected it to. The patio spaces where consequently redefined by the users to meet their cultural need (probably privacy for the women). As a result it is safe to state that as designers, an exploration into how the boundaries we are bound by are constructed, who defines them, and for what purposes. This approach encourages designers to not only acknowledge these limits but also to challenge them, follow them and use them as inspiration, or even redefine them where possible.

  5. Samaneh Heidari

    The professor explained that facing challenges or limitations can lead to better architectural designs and how we interact with animals. This concept, called limitation, is important for improvement. In projects like Habitat Marocain and Hassan Fathi’s work in Egypt, designers should consider the residents’ way of life before making final decisions on their designs. However, in these cases, not paying enough attention led to residents altering the designs to suit their needs. In contrast, the Tobacco Barn project was a success because it combined architecture with traditional values effectively. Limitations in architecture should be seen not just as barriers but as opportunities for architects to create innovative and culturally connected designs, as shown in these examples.

  6. Valentina Montagnini

    Throughout Sasha Roesler lecture we face architectural limits and realize that we might need to rethink the discipline’s foundation in order to find a solution.
    The world Stoffwechsel represents the beginning of the reflection, it can mean metabolism, but also an alteration, it can be summer up as a continuous metamorphosis, and also a general framework of urbanization.
    To rethink the foundation, we should know how architecture has been studied as an evolution, on one side of the engineering, on the other as building men, in a more anthropological sense, but also examining how some animals build their nest, both in shape and intentions, and how those are often similar to some humans ventricular architectures.
    After analyzing some case studies, we discover that it’s often wrong impose European tradition considered advanced on people that have another history, or live in different climate, it’s important to consider that architectural evolution is different based on each culture.

  7. Luiza Andor

    The professor began his discussion by comparing our ability to build with that of certain animal species, questioning to what extent it was an acquired or innate ability. From my point of view it is a sum of both, in that it must have started somewhere, as a need for protection and shelter, and then be perfected with experience.
    He then went on to discuss three case studies, where environmental and cultural impact came together in determining the building qualities of the buildings.
    Of all of them, the one that struck me most was the case of ‘Habitat Marocain’. Where what was the initial conception of the building was later modified by the owners themselves to accommodate greater privacy. I would add, predictable considering the culture. In fact, as far as I am concerned in this case, the architect failed to respect the needs and expectations of the place.

  8. Walid Akoum

    In his presentation, Architect/Professor Sascha Roesler examined the intersection of architecture with ethology and ethnology by studying the behavior of animals in building their shelters and what makes them build in that way, as well as what makes humans build their houses in that way. By doing so, he highlighted the limits of architecture for animals, which is defined by their instincts, and that same limit for Humans which is defined by their culture and needs, but sometimes by their satisfaction and comfort. Relating to this topic he looked at a case study in Casablanca, Morocco(Habitat Morocain) where the architects included in the balconies a 1.8m wall to give privacy to the women, following their culture. By doing so they included the limits of architecture which were the cultural requirements in their design.
    Moreover, he examined the evolution of the materials that were, are, and will be used in construction, showing that we are circulating back to using natural materials.

  9. Devanshi Thakuriya

    Sasha Roesler brought to attention the concept of Stoeffweschel which translates to metabolism in english. Through his lecture, he threw insights through his case studies on exploring what is beyond the limits of architecture (like human adaptation) through multiple case studies. The one I admired was of the example of typical Moroccan style of designing their habitats and how human interventions led to different interpretation of a design space. For example, the concept of having open ventilated kitchens in the typical Moroccan house evolved to pushing it to the balcony spaces with 1.8m high parapets and on the periphery of the house which gradually turned to inclusion of space within a closed box by adding and covering the height of the balcony like space by human adaptation. Another interesting part was to draw parallels between Moshi Sofdie’s Habitat 67 project and the Habitat at Morocco, although these are projects done ages apart. The lecture overall gave a new perspective on evolving metabolism of an architecture.

  10. Jacqueline Siega

    To talk about limits of architecture, Sascha Roesler introduces a certain anthropological approach to the urban. He talks about a specific kind of limits, called epistemological limits, also given by the new kind of climate crises and the question of how architects may respond and address these new emerging challenges. Firstly, Roesler talks about the necessity to generate a material transition process introducing the double meaning of the German term “Stoffwechsel” (composed by the words “material” and “transition”). In the twenty century it was possible to individuate specific materials as concrete, glass, plastic and stell, and rewriting of Semper’s scheme made during the Great Exhibition of London. Today we can renovate this scheme replacing terms with new ones as timber, earth, recycled materials, and reused materials. Finally, Roesler explains some historical and empirical case studies from different partes of the world to show a concrete application of theory in practice. All three case studies are united by research on material transformation, paying close attention to the social and cultural context in which they are developed.

  11. Bianca Carmen Martinica

    In his lecure Sascha Roesler talked about the concept of limits in architecture through the importance of technique and materials in time by promoting a rethinking of use of natural materials and a reuse of building components. Nowadays there is a necessity to rethink architecture and expand its limits in order to adress the ecological crisis in different scales.He uses the german word stoffwechsel as material transition and in a more metaphorical way metabolism and dynamic stabilisation of urban systems.
    The case studies like New Gourna in Egypt and Habitat Morocain, showed the importance of understanding people’s lifestyle and values in order to make the architecture be accepted and resist modifications through time. Features like the material choice or cultural factors can be considered as limits in architecture, but if they are taken into consideration into the design process they can take contribute to creating successful architectures for people who live them.

  12. Gauri Manoj

    In the duration of the lecture – Revisiting “Stoffwechsel” – the professor reevaluates the German term in the context of Architecture and its potential today. The term seems to signify assuming the role of – dynamic stabilization; the idea explores the limits – as a general framework of urbanization.
    The concept emphasizes the need for reflection and explores diverse avenues as an extended theory of architecture. Several examples taken from nature help us better understand this discipline. It encourages Architects and students alike to reimagine the profession and its limits at present to redefine a future where it plays a definite role in shaping society.
    The professor addressed three case studies, each taken from a different part of the globe – Egypt, Morocco, and Indonesia. It is fascinating to see the application of existing resources in creating a new and updated architectural repertoire. It is not always the right solution to stress a particular type that may ‘appear’ to be of a better technology or typology. The architecture solution is subjective to context and the users and thus may not be of a set standard. It is, therefore, necessary to encourage its advancement to nurture the native system rather than impose something foreign.

  13. Angelica Porro

    The first lecture held by Professor Sascha Roesler covered the concept of the German word “Stoffwechsel”, which in English translates to either material transition, meaning a continuous metamorphosis; or metabolism, and the dynamic stabilization of it. We can apply this concept to the general action of building, whether it’s a natural instinctive act (for the animals), or a voluntary act (for humans). Thereby, it’s important for an architect to understand that the buildings that we’re designing are subjected to a constant development and change in time, simply because they have to interact with outer occurrences (i.e. the inhabitants of a building, who change the original design of the apartment to adapt it to their needs). Since a couple of decades, we’ve introduced different materials into our construction method, such as concrete, steel, glass and plastic: these rely too much on extraction and exploitation, and are generated from a high energy driven production. We’re now in the time period that needs to shift this dynamic, by going back to local materials, circularity of the building’s components and a general regenerative approach.

  14. Elsa Della Peruta

    In the lecture Revisiting “Stoffwechsel” professor Sascha Roesler used the term Stoffwechsel to talk about the transformability in architecture of the materials. It’s a German word with a double meaning: literal, in the sense of “metabolism,” and metaphorical, specifically referring to the transformation of materials. The professor also presented three case studies very intriguing about this topic. The first one was the village of New Gourna in Egypt. It was designed by Hassan Fathy to relocate Old Gourna, a community of archaeologists near ancient sites, using local materials and techniques, reducing damage and promoting tourism development. The second one was the settlement “Habitat Marocain” (Casablanca, Morocco) consisting of three buildings (one tower and two rows) designed by two swiss architects. In this case, the focus was on the clear division between a primary and a secondary building structure. The last one was about these “tobacco barns” in Indonesia, structures in which tobacco leaves are hung for drying. This is another clear example of vernacular architecture as they are constructed entirely with natural and local materials such as teak and bamboo.

  15. Niloofar Rezaei

    Through insightful presentation and discussions, architect Sascha Roesler showed that architecture is not merely about erecting structures but rather about understanding and navigating the intricate web of environmental, cultural, and social dynamics that shape our built environment.
    His exploration of the concept of “Stoffwechsel” as both a material transition and a metaphorical representation of the metabolism of urban systems provokes a deeper reflection on the role of architects in addressing contemporary challenges such as climate crisis and cultural diversity.

    Through a series of case studies, ranging from New Gourna in Egypt to Habitat Morocain in Morocco, we saw the importance of contextual understanding and user participation in architectural design. The failures and successes observed in these projects highlight the significance of integrating environmental considerations, cultural values, and community needs into the design process.
    By embracing the complexities of our surroundings and collaborating with diverse stakeholders, architects have the opportunity to redefine the limits of architecture, and chart a more sustainable and inclusive path forward for our built environment.

  16. Melis Mercan Midilli

    In this lecture, Sascha Roesler explained the concept of Stoffwechsel which, in architectural concept, means material change. He mentioned three case studies during the lecture. First he mentinoed a project in Luxor named New Gourna Village by Hassan Fathy. New Gourna is an important example of vernacular architecture due to the techniques and materials used during the construction. It is eventually an unsuccesful attempt because a great portion of the project has been lost due to lack of maintanence and social factors such as public rejection. Second project was Habitat Marocian by Andre M. Studer located in Morocco. It is an example of how users change the habitable space designed by the architect. We see that after some time, the architects design of an open space also the women of the house can use has been closed off and added to the interior of the house. This shows that we as architects can initiate change in our projects but if we dont understand the social values of the location enough, our efforts of change is not sufficent. Last study that was mentioned is on Helvetia tobacco farms in Indonesia. The structures are made from local materials such as bamboos, teaks and sago palms. It is a product of colonialism because their construction was an outcome of ambition for Dutch tobacco trade. The structures are well-made but due to their structural merits they are temporary.

  17. Dilan Gulbas

    In his lecture, Sascha Roesler explores the concept of limits in architecture, emphasizing the significance of techniques and materials over time. He advocates for a reevaluation of using natural materials and encourages the reuse of building components to address the current ecological crisis. Roesler introduces the German term “Stoffwechsel” to denote material transition and metaphorically represents the metabolism and dynamic stabilization of urban systems.

    Through case studies like New Gourna in Egypt and Habitat Morocain, Roesler illustrates the importance of understanding people’s lifestyles and values in architectural design. He highlights how considerations such as material choices and cultural factors can act as constraints but, when integrated into the design process, contribute to creating architectures that are not only accepted but also resilient to modifications over time. This approach emphasizes the need for architects to expand the boundaries of their practice and design with a holistic understanding of societal and environmental contexts.

  18. Lekshmi Sindhu Raju

    During the lecture Revisiting “Stoffwechsel,” Professor Sascha Roesler explained the concept of limits in Architecture. The idea stresses the need of introspection and looks at many angles as an expanded theory of architecture ie, based on building of architects, animals, men.

    It inspires both students and architects to reconsider the profession’s current boundaries and envision a time when architecture will undoubtedly have a significant influence on societal development. The three case studies that the professor discussed came from Egypt, Morocco, and Indonesia, three distinct regions of the world. The first one was in the Egyptian village of New Gourna. Hassan Fathy created it with the intention of moving Old Gourna, a group of archaeologists close to historic monuments, utilizing regional resources and methods to minimize damage and foster the growth of the tourism industry. The way that current resources are being applied to produce a fresh and modern architectural repertory is fascinating. Thus, rather than imposing something foreign, we must foster its progress in order to support the original system.

  19. Ala Salari

    In Professor Sascha Roesler’s lecture on the reevaluation of architectural limits, he skillfully navigates through the intricate interplay of genetics, culture, and environmental factors shaping architectural practice. Drawing parallels between human and animal construction behaviors, he prompts us to rethink the foundations of architecture, considering the dynamic nature of material transitions and urban metabolism.

    Through compelling case studies like New Gourna in Egypt and Habitat Marocain in Morocco, Roesler underscores the importance of understanding local lifestyles and cultural values in architectural design. These examples vividly demonstrate how architecture must adapt to the needs and preferences of its inhabitants, highlighting the critical role of social and cultural context in shaping built environments.
    Moreover, Roesler’s exploration of material evolution and its implications for sustainability challenges us to reconsider our approach to construction. By advocating for the reuse of natural materials and the incorporation of vernacular techniques, he offers a pathway towards more ecologically responsible architectural practices.

    Overall, the lecture prompts us to reflect on the diverse limits of architecture, urging us to embrace innovation, cultural sensitivity, and environmental stewardship in shaping the future of our built environment. It serves as a call to action for architects and designers to push the boundaries of their practice, fostering a more inclusive, sustainable, and resilient architectural landscape.

  20. Sevgi Aydogan

    Prof. Sascha Roesler, brings the German term “Stoffwechsel” to understand Limits of Architecture and translates as the concept of metabolism in architecture, challenges conventional notions of permanence and stasis in built environments. Roesler suggest that architecture should be adaptable, responsive, and capable of evolving over time, mirroring the dynamic processes found in natural ecosystems. This perspective highlights the limits of traditional architectural paradigms, which often prioritize static forms and rigid structures. By embracing metabolic principles, architects can design spaces that can grow, change, and interact with their surroundings, fostering resilience and sustainability. However, realizing these ideals requires rethinking design methodologies, construction techniques, and societal attitudes towards architecture. The concept of metabolic architecture invites critical reflection on the relationship between the built environment and the natural world, offering innovative pathways towards more flexible, responsive, and harmonious urban landscapes.

  21. Sreelakshmi

    Limits in Architecture was defined by Professor Sascha Roesler in his lecture Revisiting “Stoffwechsel.” The concept emphasizes the importance of reflection and examines architecture from a variety of perspectives, including the building practices of architects, animals, and humans. The concept emphasizes the need for reflection and explores diverse avenues as an extended theory of architecture. Several examples taken from nature help us better understand this discipline. It encourages Architects and students alike to reimagine the profession and its limits at present to redefine a future where it plays a definite role in shaping society.
    The professor addressed three case studies, each taken from a different part of the globe – Egypt, Morocco, and Indonesia. It is fascinating to see the application of existing resources in creating a new and updated architectural repertoire. It is not always the right solution to stress a particular type that may ‘appear’ to be of a better technology or typology. The architecture solution is subjective to context and the users and thus may not be of a set standard. It is, therefore, necessary to encourage its advancement to nurture the native system rather than impose something foreign.


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