Building smarter with circular Building Blocks
Marvin Bratke (Urban Beta): ‘The ultimate goal is to create freedom in design’
By: Jessica Merkens
For Marvin Bratke, co-founder of Urban Beta, a Berlin based spatial innovation studio, the Corona pandemic painfully showed how inflexible our current built environment is. Together with a young team he created the ultimate sustainable and modular solution.
Digitalisation of architecture
Bratkes passion for architecture happened later in life. “When I was studying architecture I was more interested in automation, videogames, new types of spatial design. I found these much more in other disciplines like transportation design than the rather conservative architectural environment.” After graduating the world opened up for him, he says. “I was able to participate in programs from the Architectural Association. I saw what architecture can really be and the potential of it.”
Our cities are rigid constructs that are not built for rapid change or unbuilding
The way digitalisation is applied in building and construction and in architecture completely changed over time, he explains. “In the end of the day, the building industry is almost emitting 40 % of the CO2 in the world. And on the other hand, it only has like one or two percent of I.T. spending, which is a very big contrast. These were exactly the challenges I wanted to tackle and the starting point for our studio Urban Beta. I am very happy to have found three similar spirits in my co-founders Anke Parson, Paul Bart and Florian Michaelis.” “We don’t call ourselves an architecture office per se”, Bratke continues. “It’s only a part of what we’re doing. We create digital tools that overlay our planning, craft spatial products like our BetaPort and contribute actively to research and the academic environment. Our tools, products and services make complex architectural processes more attainable. For project stakeholders, for future users, for the neighbourhood. It was really nice to discover this feedback loop of interests I had from when I was younger. From playing Lego and video games to introducting gamification, co-creation and configurators to building. These are big aspects of architecture today. It kind of came full circle in a way.”
Digitalisation is essential nowadays, especially in enabling sustainable and circular buildings. “Especially in the wake of climate change it’s so important to look at the whole lifecycle of our buildings and construction materials. We have to see what happens with the building when it's not used anymore. How can we build it back, reuse or reconfigure it with the smallest energy and CO2 impact?” “Take the lifecycle analysis of timber buildings”, Bratke starts off. Timber stores CO2, but at the end of its lifecycle, this CO2 is emitted again when the timber is burned. “If we’re able to create circular and universally reusable building parts we can prevent setting the CO2 free. We see a lot of advantages in this modular building approach. In this way we can truly create more flexible and resilient buildings than the ones we have today, buildings that can react to our lifestyles way better.” And create a circular economy around it, where buildings function as carbonstorage and material bank, he says.
Our lifestyles changed completely, Bratke starts off. “With the popularization of the internet, we live in an age of accelerated knowledge exchange. At the same time, we live in the age of urbanisation. According to the UN, by 2050 around 68 % of humans will live in urban areas. But in the meantime our cities are very rigid constructs that are not built for rapid change or unbuilding.” During the Corona crisis whole city quarters were abandoned and could not be used because they were monofunctional. “Empty buildings often still need to be operated and heated, consuming energy and money.” Our future buildings need to be more resilient, he thinks, to be able to grow with us and to adapt to our lifestyles and specific events. This modular and adaptive design approach was the starting point for the development of the BetaPort System. “We always describe the BetaPort as a kit of parts. Like Lego for adults.” Beams and columns made from renewables and connected through intelligent knots. “You can build a lot of building typologies in a very short time and simple manner.” It’s an interesting approach to architecture, Bratke says, that also offers an easy understanding of buildings. “Understanding our built environment is essential for communities to participate in the construction process and build their own homes.
We always describe the BetaPort as a kit of parts. Like Lego for adults
The worlds first timber airport
Right before the Corona pandemic hit, Bratke and his companions were planning a design for the new Innsbruck Airport, introducing the BetaPort system for multimodal mobility hubs, allowing it to be the world’s first timber airport. The Innsbruck Airport was dealing with two very different passenger streams in winter and summer, so the building itself needed to be versatile and flexible in planning. This gave us the idea for a voxel based spatial system that later turned into the BetaPort building technology. When the pandemic hit, the planning got cancelled. “It was quite a bad time for us”, he says. But in hindsight, it also showed how inflexible airport designs are. “Basically, an airport is a shopping mall with an airplane stuck in front of it. It’s unusable, when the operational model discontinues, since the building structures are very rigid and monofunctional.” The cancellation gave Urban Beta room for more research and planning. “In the beginning of 2021, we pitched the idea for new mobility hubs that adapt over time to the GreenTech Festival in Berlin and were able to create the first demonstrator.” The Beta Port is certified as a temporary building. This also creates opportunities, Bratke says. “For temporary use you don't need a building application that could take up to two or three years. With the Beta Port, you can just go in and build for a certain amount of time. You can already put in the building functionalities and anticipated future functionalities in the certification as well. This creates versatile buildings while also speeding up and accelerating the building process.” “The ultimate goal is to create freedom in design, not only for planners, but also for future users. We want to show how to implement circular and sustainable approaches in projects. And that these things do not have to be a hurdle at all, but can be an opportunity for the future. I think living in the age of climate change, in the end of the day, we have no way around it”, Bratke concludes.
Curious about Marvin's whole story? Architect Marvin Bratke (Urban Beta Berlin) on modular design