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New ways of building showcased at Dutch Design Week

20 October 2019

As the climate crisis grows, the need for a biobased economy is becoming increasingly urgent.

Not only do biological or grown materials represent a potential and significant solution for reducing our dependence on fossil fuel derived materials (such as plastic) and for capturing CO2, but as governments start to set stricter requirements for using materials that pollute, bio-based materials will increasingly be seen as a necessity as well as an opportunity. Though many sectors are starting to catch on, the construction industry has yet to get on board. And this despite cement being responsible for at least 7% of global man-made greenhouse  emissions, according to the International Energy Agency.

© Oscar Vinck

That’s why, for the duration of DDW, we have transformed the Ketelhuisplein into a showcase for the bio-based architecture of the future. Standing tall and proud at its heart is the Biobasecamp, a pavilion built entirely out of trees. The deck was constructed out of modular 16m x 3.5m floorboards made out of cross-laminated timber (CLT, lightweight but strong prefabricated, solid engineered wood panels), while the supporting pillars have been made out of Poplar trees from the Den Bosch-Eindhoven motorway, where they had to be cut down for traffic safety reasons. 

The advantages of building out of wood like this are manifold as Marco Vermeulen, the architect of the structure, explains. “Normally you build something and then someone else has to add all the pipes, the cabling, and doors etc. Here it is all prefabricated, which speeds up the building process enormously.” Even more interesting is the fact that if you build in timber you can store CO2 for a very long time. “And if you make the elements of your constructions modular so that they can be reused again and again, you can store it for even longer.” (Biobasecamp is modular and will be reused at the Floriade horticultural show in Amsterdam in 2022.)

© Oscar Vinck

Not far from the Biobasecamp is "The Growing Pavilion", a circular structure made entirely from various naturally grown biobased materials such as mycelium. The pavilion was conceived and designed by Company New Heroes, an international multidisciplinary art collective that creates installations, theater performances, documentaries and TV shows. They worked on the project together with Dutch Design Foundation and various other partners in construction, science and design. Lucas De Man, founder of the collective, and designer Pascal Leboucq, think that biobased materials are too often designed to resemble existing materials. “We should use biobased materials because they make designs and products more beautiful, original and innovative than their traditional counterparts. By doing that we create a new design identity, a new aesthetic," says De Man.

The Growing Pavilion definitely has its own aesthetic. The exterior facade is a real eye catcher. The mycelium panels are grown in special molds in only 2 weeks. The network of the Reishi mushroom has grown entirely through hemp residues  sourced from the agri sector, which serves as soil for the fungus. After a short drying period, the fungus is dead and no longer grows. Leboucq: “We deliberately allowed the fungus to continue to grow a little longer, giving it a unique, organic texture, color and experience.

The pavilion is surrounded by a bench made from pressed rice straw. When you step inside, you immediately see the natural elements in the floor and the furniture. These are made from bio-laminate, a combination of pulverized locally growing cattail plants, bound with an adhesive based on starch from the potato industry. The unique funnel-shaped roof is made of cotton and drains rainwater into the centrally located planter for living cattail

Growing Pavilion
© Oscar Vinck

Besides showing the new aesthetic of biobased building and designing, The Growing Pavilion as a project shows how experiment, collaboration and knowledge exchange can realize this beauty. In the pavilion and online, the creative collective shares a "Materials Atlas", describing all the experiments that the team has conducted over the past 2.5 years. "We give people an insight to our search in the world of biobased building. We want to share all information so that designers and companies can take steps themselves and together," says Leboucq. "It describes, for example, that we would have preferred a roof made from locally produced flax, but current technology is not advanced enough yet to achieve this," said the designer. De Man adds, “Many companies are withholding information and knowledge because they have made a major investment and think they will lose money if they make it public. The opposite is true. The more we share, the more we can learn from each other, the further we can grow together. This is how The Growing Pavilion goes beyond just finding beautiful and smart applications for the challenges of our time. It’s a project that facilitates cross-sectoral encounters and encourages collaborative realization of biobased dreams.

The duo does not know how long the mycelium structure can withstand sun, rain and snow, that is also part of the investigation. But the prototype panels, which they installed outside five months ago, are still in the same condition as when they were first made. The current assumption is that The Growing Pavilion can last ten years. But the dream is that with improvements in technology and innovations in the use of materials, they can last forever. Until then, the various parts of the building can be given a new purpose or go back to nature, because the structure is 95% circular.

Growing Pavilion
© Oscar Vinck

Both projects on Ketelhuisplein use materials and techniques that are not new, but that have been around for hundreds or even thousands of years. For example, the idea of making wooden foundations is commonplace in Amsterdam and Rotterdam, which is largely built on a system of wooden stilts. Both projects also capture carbon. Calculations show that 16 tons of CO2 has been emitted during the production of The Growing Pavilion, but the pavilion has captured 26 tons via its grown materials. "The structure is therefore ultimately CO2 negative," says De Man. In addition, 25 tons of CO2 emissions have been saved compared to construction with conventional building materials such as concrete. The Biobasecamp, for example, serves as an example of how much can be saved on carbon emissions when biobased materials are used on a large scale. "In the Netherlands we are about to build 1 million houses in the next 20 years," explains Marco Vermeulen. "If we would do that in a conventional way, we would emit another 55 megatons of CO2." If those million homes were made of CLT and wood instead, we would not only prevent the emissions of that 55 megatons, but we would also capture another 45 megaton CO2. What is needed, Vermeulen believes, is a change in mentality. "We need to understand how valuable a commodity really is."

A collection of quotes from other partners and participants involved in exploring bio-based design and architecture at Ketelhuisplein.  

Mathew Vola, Director of Real Estate Arup: “At Arup we have signed the Sustainable Development Goals. We think the balance between planet and human is very important. Construction is responsible for 25% of CO2 emissions. It would be great if we can bring this to 0, but we want to go even further; by constructing buildings that will generate energy. Our buildings are energy-efficient (for example the QO Hotel in Amsterdam), store CO2 (like Haut, a tower in Amsterdam) and enhance bio-diversity (for example, the Bosco Verticale project we worked on). We would like to combine all three. We need regulations that include the impact on the planet in the costs. Building with bio-based materials seems more expensive, but it will cost us much more to continue in the old way.”
Engineering firm Arup is the main engineer and advisor for fire safety for DDW’s Biobasecamp.

Peter Verdaasdonk, Chief Executive Officer of Floriade Expo 2022: “Both Dutch Design Week and the Expo are focused on the future so it's only logical for us to work together. During Floriade Expo 2022 we will focus on the Green City of the Future. Circular construction is a substantial part of this. Together with our partners, we are seeking out innovative circular materials. We expect our presence at DDW with the Floriade LivingLab brings us into contact with many enthusiastic (young) designers who would like to join us in this building process.”
During DDW several challenges will be launched by Floriade Expo 2022. For example: students will be invited to take on a challenge based on the themes of the world horticultural exhibition: green, food, energy and health. The Expo is looking for enthusiastic ideas and innovative designs for the Dutch Floriade entry, the ‘Dutch Innovation Xperience’. Beside these challenges, visitors will also be informed and inspired about Floriade Expo 2022 itself.

Waldo Maaskant, programme leader for a biobased economy and circular economy, Province of Noord-Brabant: “Circular construction has a great future. The Netherlands and Brabant also faces a major building challenge. The Province of Noord-Brabant has given circularity an explicit place in this agreement and boosted projects in the field of circular construction, renovation and demolition. We do this together with construction companies and housing cooperatives. We have direct influence in the area of infrastructure because of our own provincial road network, where we introduced an innovative procurement and tendering method that promotes circularity and application of bio-based materials by challenging the market in these areas."
During DDW the Province of Noord-Brabant is partner of Biobascamp, Embassy of Circular & Biobased building and the Embassy of Sustainable design. Living Landscape is an interactive exhibition at Biobasecamp that inspires and challenges you to make green choices. Here you can experience how green energy, changes in agriculture, smart mobility, innovative power and circular construction come together in your village or city.

Biobasecamp was built by the DERIX assembly team. The team has used around 200 m³ of X-LAM (cross-layer timber) for the construction. During DDW, DERIX shows a number of other examples why X-LAM is the wooden building material of the future and the possibilities it offers for flexible and circular construction.