Photo: Buro Kade BV
Michael Bol (Buro Kade): “Building sustainably is also using common sense”
By: Jessica Merkens
Circular building: it keeps popping up. And there’s no wonder in that. Raw materials are getting scarcer and more expensive and the impact of carbon intensive, traditional materials like concrete, steel and ceramics have often been demonstrated. The Dutch government wants to be fully circular in 2050, which demands the necessary rules and legislation. But knowledge on the topic of circularity is missing in the construction sector, sees city maker and architect Michael Bol (Buro Kade). He is the initiator of the BNA (Dutch Architect Trade Association) network ‘circular architecture’. “Is it simply about building or about quality of living?”
Michael Bol // Photo: Buro Kade BV
To start: what is the BNA network ‘circular architecture’ exactly?
“It’s a knowledge network about circularity and biobased building. In the past, the BNA meetings were organised by architects. As of lately, we are taking a broader approach: we welcome the entire construction chain. You can only realise the impact of circularity with all construction partners. We’re making little progress because there is too little knowledge on this topic within the industry. That’s why we established this network.” “We invite all building partners for this knowledge network. Architects, constructors, contractors, consultancy agencies, and product suppliers as well. We want the partners to meet each other in a clever way. Only then can you draw up a circular program of requirements, make sure new contract agreements are circular, or get started with material passports.”
What kind of questions do architects mainly ask?
“For most architects, circularity is merely recycling materials. But recycling is only a small part of circularity. They are missing the link from using it as a term or slogan to applying it in their practice. Like the use of a materials passport. What is it? How does it work? When it comes to circularity, the level of knowledge is quite minimal.”
Recycling is only a small part of circularity
You call, we haul’ is always easier, but does not give the best - read: most sustainable - result
Why is that, you think?
“That’s a tricky question. I think it mainly has to do with the fact that not many architects claim their role as the director of a project. Often it’s the client or the contractor. Even though, as an architect, you have a chance to take centre stage as the master builder. Designing sustainably and circularly have long been present in the alternative scene. Right now, it is becoming law and regulation in the Netherlands. Not everybody is yet convinced of its importance. What’s the impact of circularity on your job?”
At Buro Kade you call yourself city makers..
“That’s right. Of course, you are building within the context of an existing environment and you want to add something valuable. All things you make have an impact, so you have to look for the most sustainable intervention. You need to interview your client thoroughly, even though that’s not always the easiest way. The concept ‘you call, we haul’ is simpler, but not always the best – read: most sustainable – answer.”
“As an architect, you think about establishing relations to make a meaningful intervention in the urban tissue. For example: there is the necessity to build one million houses. It’s now being solved one dimensionally by building social housing as fast and as cheap as possible. Even though we have learned from several different projects after the second world war that a one-dimensional approach is not sustainable.”
“Stratification makes the city interesting. You have to work with pre-existing, complex tissue and take care of a mixture of function and demographic. And I am confident when I say we can realise it even quicker. The pressure to build houses is now politically and financially exploited. Is it just about building or about quality of living? If a liveable environment is the starting point, you make different decisions.”
“If a liveable environment is the starting point, you make different decisions.”
Photo: Homebase of Buro Kade in a factory from 1909
In your opinion, who is a pioneer of circular construction?
“I immediately think of Thomas Rau, the initiator of Madaster. A digital platform to get a good view on the raw materials you have. But more important: to measure in advance what the impact of your design decision is. Within Buro Kade, we are investigating whether we can match the sustainability parameters to our BIM model, so that we can see the impact right away. In that way, you can decide to use a different raw material, when that’s the solution to lengthening the lifespan of your building. Madaster is an important tool for that.”
What’s the most important tip when you want to start sustainable building?
“It starts with using common sense. Especially when it comes to detachability and biobased building. For example, I see a lot of biobased products that have been attached to a façade with a gigantic aluminium structure around it. Is that the point? Just like the environmental impact of complex installations. It’s always cool in a church. But what are we doing? Designing buildings with glass and big windows, letting in light and heat. Our office is located in a factory from 1909 with cast iron beams and bolts that are detachable. The walls are 70 centimetres thick and 360 days out of the year, it is really pleasant in here. Even with single glass panes and without isolation.” “We’re used to solving problems around energy use because of laws and regulations. But sometimes you can already solve climate control issues in the design, and not by using installations or more materials. Take into account the ratio of open and closed, windows versus closed walls, or openings for natural ventilation.”
What project are you most proud of?
“That’s the building for Weener XL we’re building right now. We strived for the highest percentage of circularity and biobased materials. We’re making big strides on the programme of requirements side, the construction side and with the materials passport in BIM. We’re trying to close off the chain as good as possible.” “Besides that, we are researching a lot of biobased materials with our Buro Kade Academy. New forms of stone-like materials, wood, cork, flax and straw. It’s really fun to talk about it with each other and to experiment.”