12.–16.01.2025 #immcologne

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Raw materials shortage and new opportunities

Why adaptive concepts are gaining importance

Wood is a dwindling resource on many construction sites – and steel and plastics are also increasingly becoming scarce commodities. In addition to these supply bottlenecks, architects, manufacturers and designers are also struggling with significant price increases for a number of sought-after materials. The reasons for the shortages are many and varied: from insufficient production capacities to transport problems to production stoppages at suppliers. It’s a global trend that has only been exacerbated by the pandemic. Join us as we take a look at the opportunities arising in this challenging situation.

An expensive and increasingly rare commodity: besides wood, supplies of raw materials like steel, oil and aluminium are also running short – a development that poses challenges for the interior design industry. (Photo: Vitor Heinrich on Pexels)

Resource shortages – and the industries worst affected

It’s clear from the trend barometer that the scarcity of raw materials will continue to intensify in the future, as the causes of the supply shortage aren’t going away. They can be traced primarily to population growth and consumerism. More and more people are consuming more and more and throwing away products faster and faster. This pattern means resources are being used up at such a rate that three Earths would be needed if the German lifestyle were replicated all around the world. But the lack of resources cannot be blamed on the Germans alone – all industrialised nations combined are driving the shortage of raw materials.

According to the ifo Institute’s 2021 Business Survey for Germany, the furniture industry is one of the sectors hardest hit by these developments – after motor vehicle production and machinery and equipment manufacturing. Previous efforts made by affected companies to react to the raw materials crisis often appear to be too short-termist and not forward-looking. In a flash poll by the Association of German Chambers of Commerce and Industry (DIHK) , for example, 67 per cent of the companies surveyed said they were passing on price increases to customers. 64 per cent said they were looking for new suppliers, and 57 per cent were increasing their stock levels. Approaches that may appear helpful for the moment, but will reach a dead end in the long run. However, architects, designers and manufacturers have creative and promising solutions up their sleeves, too.

Stylish architectural gems demonstrate a grasp of current trends

Because new buildings in particular require large quantities of construction materials, which are more and more expensive and difficult to procure, architects are increasingly turning to the principle of adaptivity. In adaptive reuse, for example, existing buildings and architectural structures are adapted to suit new needs and desired uses – which is good both for building owners and the environment. After all, this resource-efficient construction method is considered particularly sustainable.

When it comes to hotel design, adaptive reuse is already very popular in many of the world’s metropolises. Creative architects skilfully breathe new life into the history of the buildings to present design-savvy guests with a unique hotel experience. In Tel Aviv, for example, an old office building from the 1950s was transformed into a chic design hotel by renovating the facade and deliberately keeping the interiors minimalist. In Amsterdam, guests can stay in 28 stylish bridge-keepers’ houses – the SWEETS Hotel’s individual suites are spread throughout the city and all offer fantastic views of the canals. In New York State’s Hudson Valley, four historic buildings have been transformed into the elegant Hotel Kinsley, featuring a vintage design – original structures have been preserved and now have a new lustre. It’s clear that such attention to detail, architecture and the environment is keenly sought-after by hotel guests.

Sustainable and multifunctional: Berlin brand Kiezbett produces its beds locally and delivers them in reusable bags that are taken back after delivery. (Photo: Kiezbett)

Sustainable solutions for the interior design industry

Designers and manufacturers are also responding to the scarcity of raw materials with a great deal of creativity and adaptive designs, and they are taking the entire life cycle of furniture items into account right from the concept phase. The formula behind the cradle-to-cradle principle combines the durability of a product with its ability to be recycled after use. The zero-waste trend even goes so far as to use only natural raw materials that can be effortlessly returned to the recycling loop at the end of the product’s useful life in order to protect the environment. The zero-waste solid wooden beds produced by Berlin brand Kiezbett are a great example of this concept. Using the timber harvested in local forests, they are handmade in regional workshops employing disabled people and delivered by cargo bike in reusable packaging. With this model, the Berlin-based company offers an impressive demonstration of what a sustainable future for the interior design industry could look like.

Furnishings that fulfil several functions are not only popular with customers with limited living space – manufacturers also benefit from this multifunctionality. Combining several functions in just one piece of furniture or ageless living concept saves materials in the long term and reduces dependence on raw materials. What we’re talking about here is transforming furniture, the multifunctionality of which is particularly appealing when smart solutions are needed for small spaces. At a time when more and more people have to integrate space-saving working-from-home concepts into their living spaces, multifunctional interior design is booming. Manufacturers who offer to buy back used furniture from their customers in exchange for store credit have found a good way of building customer loyalty. Businesses that follow this reuse strategy can incorporate previously used materials into the production of upcycled furniture.

Because the raw materials shortage isn’t going away

The outlook for the supply of raw materials remains gloomy. According to an OECD study from 2018, the world’s consumption of raw materials is set to double by 2060 due to an expanding global economy, population growth and rising living standards. As a result, there is growing pressure on the interior design and construction industries to adapt their production practices and respond to these trends with sustainable concepts. The more independent companies can become from raw materials, the more they will reduce the environmental impact of their products and help to combat climate change, and the more successfully they will be able to compete in the market and overcome the shortage of raw materials.

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