ConstructLab is a collaborative construction practice that works on both short-term and permanent projects. In contrast to the conventional architectural process in which the architect designs and the builder builds, ConstructLab is responsible for both the concept and the realization. The designer builds and continues to design on site. An organic process arises between design and construction. Unexpected opportunities are anticipated during the construction process.
The designer-builders bring the site to life through their permanent presence, create new dynamics between people and give space to integrate interested third parties. This synergy results in a special feeling of togetherness.
The idea behind ConstructLab’s practice is also to rediscover a constructive intelligence in the materials themselves, to design simultaneously with the material. Low-tech and simplicity are the key. Not only technical competence is important, but above all, the use of common sense, whereby construction techniques can be used by everyone. It’s about involving people, the “community”, to turn it into a socially engaged project. ConstructLab is more about the approach than the method of building. They are also environmentally conscious from concept to realization. Projects are made with recycled materials and are built with a view to future reuse of the raw materials. During its projects ConstructLab connects the creative and the practical, thinking and making, and places the project in a social, ecological and temporal context.
What ConstructLab is aiming for may take our idea back in time. Just think of the “master builders” in the Middle Ages, when the architect was more of a craftsman, present on the construction site to give the necessary instructions. The construction site is the unique collective, the master builder is the architect. Or let’s think about Japan, where the word architect only made its appearance at the end of the nineteenth century and before that period, all design and craft was the domain of the master builders of the Edo period, led by the master builder (Toryo). The Toryo was responsible for all aspects of the construction, from planning and design to actual construction, maintenance and repairs, in consultation with his team: ‘Design & Build’ avant-la-lettre.
Alexander Römer studied carpentry and architecture. He founded ConstructLab as a forum for participatory design-build projects in 1998. In 2005, he joined the Parisian collective EXYZT and worked on many projects, including the French contribution to the 10th Venice Architecture Biennale 2006. With the idea of ConstructLab and his network of designers, builders, architects, photos, graphic designers, gardeners or cooks, he travels around the world like a nomad and has initiated and designed countless international projects. In Belgium they settled in Mons Cultural Capital 2015 with their project “Mon (s) Invisible” and in the Thorpark in Genk for Zomerwerf 2017.
The title How Together refers to a publication by the European collective Constructlab on the occasion of the Chicago Architecture Biennale 2019. ConstructLab takes a dynamic approach to uniting architectural concept and construction. Breaking with traditional divisions of labor, the organization engages a team of multitalented designer-builders—as well as sociologists, urban planners, graphic designers, curators, educators, and web developers—who carry the creative process from the drafting table into the field, enabling design to respond to the possibilities and restraints posed by materials, site, environment, and utilization. With emphasis on collaboration, both with one another and with members of the community, ConstructLab’s practitioners take on a variety of projects, permanent and temporary, bringing their creative strategies to bear on solving problems and raising awareness of social, environmental, and practical issues. They favor recycled and upcycled materials, and they are mindful of resources available locally. At the heart of ConstructLab’s work, which includes commissioned projects throughout the world, is a desire to enhance feelings of community and heighten the sense of place.