‘Pre-Use’ – A Term And Strategy For Open Circularity

Title: Pre-Use Introduction
What: Article
Ordered by: SELF

English & Deutsch ↓

Pre-Use Introduction

We like to introduce you to a new term and practice: Pre-Use.

Pre-Use is about creative reuse or repurposing of things. But also about preservation. So you reuse something without destroying it.

In short: Pre-Use means to use something for something different than it was meant to but you leave it intact so it still works as initially intended afterwards.


A jar as a vase, a flower pot as an ashtray, a deposit bottle as a sugar dispenser. 3 new uses that still allow to go back to the initial one

We learned the term from Jan Koerbes from ReFunc. He told us also about the the architecture collective Umschichten that use the term ‚Pre-Cycling’ to describe the same practice.

Here is a good example for it: Umschichten collaborated with the french group BellaStock on a project where they borrowed wooden sticks from a building material store to build infrastructure for an event. They did not cut or paint or drilled the sticks – they did no harm at all! So when the festival was over the sticks were still the same and could be returned to the hardware store to be sold for their initial use.

Some more examples of Pre-Use

Chess Figures from nuts and bolts
3 corners & a pane as a temporary pedestal for a fair booth
TA pipe holder from plumbing holds a curtain (found at ZK/U)
Pre-Use Exhibition Infrastructure @HBKsaar “Opennes Makes The World Go Round”
Parts from a high level rack, car tires and water pipes as fitness devices (found at ZK/U)

What makes Pre-Use and Circularity such a good combination?


Pre-Use & Circularity – A Perfect Team

Pre-Use is a very good approach to Circularity! A few reasons why:

dont invent a new modular
One way to hack into existing modular systems: Find them where they were not put purposely.
  • Modularity – Most examples of Pre-Use point to already existing cases of Modularity. And the most beautiful cases of Pre-Use might be the ones, where the Pre-Use version still works after the initially planned use like the flower pot still works as an ashtray before and after it was used for flowers. Pre-Use helps us to find what is already there! We don’t have to invent new modular systems! Therefore Pre-Use can inspire or teach design for circularity!
Fewer factories = fewer complexity, fewer transport, fewer energy
Fewer factories = fewer complexity, fewer transport, fewer energy
  • Pre-Use = Re-Use = ReDuce! – A complex world of products presents a problem for sustainable Circularity. The more different products are there the more complex it becomes to organize repairing, reusing and recycling of parts and materials. Pre-Use might enable us to shrink down complexity. We just need one factory for flowerpots – and not a second one for ashtrays too. PreUse allows to reduce complexity. Make more with less through multi-use.
Every household should have a toolbox and a collection of multi-use fasteners to Pre-Use things at home. (Examples)
  • DIY Circularity; Save Resources @Home & @Work Now! – 40% of our carbon footprint is produced by goods like shoes, furniture, smartphones and so on. If you pre-use things at home you have more solutions but fewer things. Modularity can create wealth with less resources! Pre-use can help to grow kids more sustainably for example or create sustainable exhibitions. All in all: If you shop smart and look for pre-usability in the things you buy it might result into a much more sustainable life-style. Many people would love to buy circular products as part of them helping to stop environmental pollution. But there aren’t a lot of products in the market. Pre-Use is their DIY-circularity solution!
Redesign things to make them “look good” in different use cases.
  • Circular Design Inspiration & Task – Pre-Use points to existing cases of working circular modularity in our already built world! This makes it a good thing to study for designers of circular solutions. Go, take and modify what is already there and close to work perfectly! Sometimes you just need to make some minor modifications to make one object perfect for several uses: Redesign the pipe-holder in the example above so that it looks and works good in both cases for pipes and curtains.
Don’t do anything before you know what you will do next with it.
Don’t do anything before you know a positive thing that happens next with it.
  • A Joker For Education – Pre-Use makes it easy to explain the most important message for people that want to implement circularity: Don’t use anything before you know what will happen with it after the first use! Always have a plan for what comes after that is not “throw it in the trash” before you start at all. 
Accelerate Re-Usability

That might make in fact Pre-Use the single great rule or the perfect basic operation to make a circular world emerge! Imagine everyone would make this a basic rule: „You always have to have at least 3 positive ideas about the future use before you start to use something“ – a circular world would emerge from that quickly! “Pay it forward”!

+ 3erlin Grid & Openness – The Open Structures and our 3erlin Grid idea is a perfect example for PreUse-Design! Design for multi-reusabiliy! And there you can see that Openness is a key for Pre-Use or that the best Pre-Use-Ideas are probably impossible to design protect anyway. 


And Now: Grow The Collection

We will play with Pre-Use at Mifactori a lot more and explore it! We have a Pre-Use-Category here on our page where you can see others posts talking about Pre-Use and sharing examples.

And we have also a huge Flickr album with lots and lots of examples we update every now and then.

And here is an open collection of Pre-Use examples on the OSCEdays forum where you can contribute to.

And now: Pre-Use! And talk about it. For example by sharing this article.


(Update 2019)

Read & Act More

The basic concept of Pre-Use (without the “leave it intact” part) is of course as old as humanity probably itself and was often promoted with different terms. Here we start a collection of links and hints we found.

Workshop HowTos

Try Pre-Use in groups. It is fun!


Deutsche Version

Leider gibt es keinen deutschen Text bisher. Aber DeepL hilft. Oder man hört sich diese Podcast-Version hier an.