My quick visit to Amsterdam last week was pretty cool. Once in the city I hopped on the free ferry and headed straight for the creative hotspot of NDSM Wharf, where the 2-day WasteBuild Zero event was underway in the 100+ year old warehouse - no city centre or stag do’s on this trip.
The purpose of the AJ and MRW partnered event was to showcase the latest materials, techniques, solutions and innovators that are helping to deliver low carbon and circular construction schemes.
It was great to break out of my regular ‘London sphere’ and meet some new faces - there was a good mix of UK, Netherlands, wider Europe and even a little US representation. Thanks also to Richard Boyd who organised a social dinner for a few speakers at Cafe de Ceuvel, a really interesting eco-conscious restaurant which I would definitely recommend.
On the walk back to my hotel from that meal, a couple of us detoured onto the floating arks of Schoonschip, an ecologically and socially sustainable floating neighbourhood. It was dark so afraid there are no photos, but I’d encourage you to look at the website for more info - the houses are pretty cool.
Back to the event, and a message I heard from multiple presenters was the need to look at Whole Life Carbon. The takeaway for me was that I need to better understand WLC numbers, benchmarks and targets because there were a lot of figures thrown around and I am far more familiar with embodied and operational targets. Martin Pauli, Arup, said average WLC values today are 1,500-2,000 kgCO2e/m2 but we should be aiming for 600-800!
Lots of presenters shared project case studies of all shapes and sizes where they had been highly sustainable and often pushed into the circular economy stuff too. However it is still clear to me that it remains far too easy and cheap to buy new compared to reusing. As more is done in this space and the cost of carbon rises, this will change.
Martha Lewis explained all things materials using paint as an example of how should be more informed of what we specify because of the macro impact that the small stuff (micro-plastics) can have.
It was interesting to see how RIBA might get a shake-up in the near future, as President-Elect Muyiwa Oki discussed their 2030 Climate Challenge with Duncan Baker-Brown. For a RIBA president, Muyiwa is quite different - he is young and works at Mace - so no surprise he has some thoughts on what needs to change:
Design with systems thinking, less about style
Climate literacy tests
Design “advice”, “feasibility” and “management” roles
More focus on architect well-being. A shift from “overworked and underpaid”
Lean into and leverage tech and data
And I was pleased to hear what would normally be described a demolition company director introduce himself as working for a ‘deconstruction’ company. Axel Hendriks agreed when asked if deconstruction companies might in the future perhaps pay for the privilege to deconstruct a client’s building (assuming the value of the salvaged materials outweighs the cost of deconstruction activities).
I spoke on the Friday afternoon about steel reuse. By all accounts the UK (and specifically London) is leading the way, so I was pleased to share a few thoughts on what the industry is doing right now, what has been achieved and highlight some of the challenges ahead. Speaking of steel… don’t forget to sign-up for my Circular Steel event on 29th June which will be a full day deep-dive into this topic.
There were also some awards, so it was brilliant to see a Grosvenor project taking the Commercial Building Award for Holbein Gardens. In the photo below, Will Hurst, Managing Editor of the AJ is talking about the scheme.
Well done to founder, Frazer Stokes, for a brilliant event. If you are interested in next year’s event, register here.
Thanks for the event summary! I think Muyiwa is spot on with those things we need to address not only in the UK but throughout the global architecture industry.