What is grey energy?

Using natural resources to shape our environment requires the use of energy—invisibly inherent in materials as so-called grey energy. This includes the energy used for raw material extraction, production, transport and installation of elements. In the sense of resource-saving construction, this must be made visible – new ways of conservation and utilisation are necessary. Understanding how to deal with grey energy forms the basis of a holistic approach towards material, aesthetic and inclusive sustainability for the development of cities and regions.

Recognising, conserving and using this energy is the goal of the Institute for Grey Energy.

The institute is made up of three sections. In the Atelier, a collective of young planners develops strategies for radical conservation of the object. The Archive will be a place of knowledge generation: here we will explore the emergence of grey energy since the beginning of modernity and its transformation as a current challenge of the 21st century. The Living Lab, a former granary in Oßmannstedt (Thuringia), is a pivotal point, home and first project for the institute at the same time. A public centre for collaborative spatial development is being created here, where inclusive planning approaches for spaces beyond the metropolises are being devised.

Generate knowledge

We consider the in-depth exploration of further dimensions of grey energy beyond its energetic significance as an important basis for our actions. The bound energy as a resource is inevitably to be understood as part of our environment, so that numerous interactions arise between the built and the grown. Are cyclical regeneration and processes of appropriation only seeming contradictions in this context?

We understand grey energy as a culturally conditioned resource. Its use requires a critical examination of the conditions of origin and historical contexts. It is not only in this context that we question outdated images and ideas of urban and rural space.

Important findings are brought together with existing knowledge in the Institute’s archive, discussed with interested stakeholders and made available in the long term. Other topics such as repair culture, sustainable building, urban mining or existing concepts of stock transformation flow into the institute in this way and provide new impulses. The mostly urban strategies are not copied, however, but radically rethought for the regional embedding of the institute.

Adapt practices

The spatial focus of our work is the landscapes of deindustrialisation and economic transformation. In these landscapes of industrial culture, there are countless areas and buildings of remarkable size, most of which were previously used for industrial purposes, which often lie fallow and whose spaciousness we see as a special potential and starting point. Especially buildings that were used for industrial production have a particularly high level of unused grey energy due to their complex construction process and difficult transformability. We see this energy as a crucial resource in the challenge to reduce greenhouse gases and want to initiate a radical change in the way it has been used so far.

The focus is on strategies for the preservationeseconversion and re-use of this building stock. Up to now, the preservation and transformation of these structures has usually been associated with considerable interventions and high energy costs, so that a renewed conversion in the future seems impossible—or again swallows up huge amounts of energy and resources. Low-threshold appropriation concepts are intended to create an alternative to energy-intensive total conversion or demolition.

Grey energy—a common good?

Grey energy is considered non-renewable in most cases, which is why we at the Institute for Grey Energy are developing new resource-saving approaches for the circular reuse and saving of this energy. Adaptive use concepts can achieve a certain degree of renewability of this resource. This energy is considered a public good. Reuse and upgrading must not reproduce economic inequalities of land use, but can contribute to a distributive justice of public goods.

To this end, we leave the urban centres, test the approaches in the Living Lab and carry the findings through the Atelier to other places in Central Germany and, at best, to other European regions. The site of a granary in Oßmannstedt (Thuringia) serves as the pivotal point, home and first project of the institute. Due to the history of its construction and use, we consider it a challenging cultural and ecological heritage and thus a crystallisation point for our topics.

Persons involved

The institute is an association of various people from the disciplines of design, architecture, urbanism and related fields such as monument conservation, art or the crafts.

Leo Bockelmann (urbanist)
Leon Dirksen (architect)
Fridtjof Florian Dossin (conservator)
Laura Hähnel (graphic designer)
Mirko Haselroth (architect)
Jannik Noeske (urbanist)
Carolin Schmidt (urbanist)