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Delicate by nature15th of September 2011
German correspondent Thomas Schulte-Marxloh looks at how modern architecture is affected by sustainability policies.
Sustainability, environment, nature and purity have become key words in our modern world. Contemporary examples of architecture are supposed to reflect this shift from a disposable society to a sustainable, environmental friendly community which appreciates the purity of natural materials.
Sometimes, however, there seems to be a conflict between the ‘green’ approach and actual needs; then it is hard to know what to do and good advice does not come cheap. When renovating the entrance areas of the main train station, the administration of the city of Essen was delighted by an architectural draft which suggested using natural stone. The material seemed to fit perfectly in terms of design and function. A special feature of the French granite is its water permeability which is supposed to be environmental friendly (the surface is not ‘sealed’) and sustainable (relieves the strain on the sewerage system).
High quality natural stone is not a bargain but when looking at the long-term advantages it can be a good investment, of course. Unfortunately, soon after completion of the entrance areas the first problems occurred: the delicate material could not be cleaned, neither by the municipal cleaning service (which is in charge), nor by the helpful cleaning service of the train station. Experts and several companies were hired to find out the best solution for the problem.
When it became apparent that there is no way to avoid additional costs for cleaning, the municipal administration intended to seal the water permeable natural stone; the special (and expensive) feature of the material would be gone, of course... Luckily, another expert explained that certain substances may penetrate the seal nevertheless and the removal of this contamination may be even more difficult.
As a result, several contract cleaning companies were asked by the municipal administration to develop a cleaning plan. The area includes some stairs and corners which cannot be cleaned by machines and require expensive manual work. Finally, the municipal administration concluded a tentative agreement with a cleaning company, the additional annual costs for cleaning the entrance areas will be about 220,000 euros (which is a nice economic stimulation of the contract cleaning industry).
The basic fact, however, still remains: when problems regarding cleaning occur, the contract cleaning company will be blamed first and has to prove that competent services have been delivered.
Once you're a suspect it is hard to convince the accuser; the supplier, again, will present experts’ opinions and reference projects in order to reject any objections to the delivered material. Additional experts may be involved and various opinions may be presented – good business for respective experts, by the way – just to make clear that contract cleaning companies cannot work wonders and the material itself is great, however, does not meet the specific requirements of the project.
In terms of sustainability, environmental friendliness and easy maintenance we can still admire the Romans for their streets - which seem to last forever and do not require laborious cleaning.