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Posts Tagged ‘Thomas Rau’

Photo: Econ.
Thomas Rau and Sabine Oberhuber are prominent proponents of creating a circular economy for a sustainable relationship between humans and the Earth. One approach is to reuse building materials that are liberated during demolition.

In the interest of bringing you some of the latest ideas in sustainability, here is a story on reusing building materials, leasing instead of buying products, and other ideas to lighten the planet’s burden. And they are not just ideas.

Jessica Camille Aguirre reports at the New York Times, “When the Dutch National Bank moved into its Amsterdam headquarters in 1968, the new buildings were epic and stylish. A sprawling Modernist landmark that took up an entire city block off the banks of the Amstel Canal, it was distinguished by a towering high-rise of polished ochre tile. …

“A few decades into the new millennium, the entire complex began to show signs of wear. Tiles fell off the facade. Pipes began to leak. And, perhaps most troubling in a country that prized itself on environmental innovation, its overextended heating systems burned too much fuel.

“In 2020, an architecture firm completed a design plan that would update the original structures and transform the inner courtyard into a public garden. …

“Typically, the fate of a building that has outlasted its usefulness is demolition, leaving behind a huge pile of waste. The Netherlands and other European countries have tried to reduce that waste with regulations. Buildings there are often smashed to pieces and repurposed for asphalt. … A Dutch environmental engineer named Michel Baars thought he could do better than turn [a building] into material for a road.

Mr. Baars considers himself an urban miner, someone who extracts raw materials from discarded infrastructure and finds a market for them. …

“Lean and no-nonsense, Mr. Baars belongs to an emerging group of architects, engineers, contractors and designers who are determined to find a new way to build. This group shares a philosophy rooted in a set of ideas sometimes called the circular or regenerative economy, the cradle-to-cradle approach, or the doughnut economy.

“There are two main tenets to their thinking: First, on a planet with limited resources and a rapidly warming climate, it’s crazy to throw stuff away; second, products should be designed with reuse in mind. The first idea is a recognizable part of our everyday lives: Recycling has retrieved value from household trash for a long time. More recently, the approach has started to gain a toehold in industries like fashion, with secondhand retailers and clothing rental services, and in food production, with compostable packaging. The second takes more forethought and would require companies to rethink their businesses in the most basic ways. Translating either concept to the infrastructure of human settlements requires considering reuse in much longer time scales. …

“Buildings use a prodigious amount of raw materials and are responsible for nearly 40 percent of the world’s climate emissions, half of which is generated by their construction. The production of cement is alone responsible for eight percent of global emissions.

“In recent years, concern about waste and the climate has led cities like Portland, Ore., and Milwaukee to pass ordinances requiring certain houses to be deconstructed rather than demolished. Private companies in Japan have spearheaded new ways of taking high-rises down from the inside, floor by floor. China promised to repurpose 60 percent of construction waste in its recent five-year plan. But perhaps no country has committed itself as deeply to circular policies as the Netherlands.

“In 2016, the national government announced that it would have a waste-free economy by 2050. At the same time, the country held the rotating Council of the European Union presidency, and it made circularity one of the main concepts driving the industrial sector across the bloc. Amsterdam’s city government has set its own goals, announcing plans to start building a fifth of new housing with wood or bio-based material by 2025 and halve the use of raw materials by 2030. Cities like Brussels, Copenhagen and Barcelona, Spain, have followed suit.

“Even in the Netherlands, though, creating a truly circular economy is challenging. Nearly half of all waste in the country comes from construction and demolition, according to national statistics, and a stunning 97 percent of that waste was classified as ‘recovered’ in 2018. But most of the recovered waste is downcycled — that is, crushed into roads or incinerated to produce energy. A 2020 report by the European Environment Agency pointed out that only 3 to 4 percent of material in new Dutch construction was reused in its original form, which means that trees are still being cut for lumber and limestone still mined for cement. …

“Mr. Baars, who runs a circular demolition company called New Horizon, sent a crew of around 15 people to take down the office partitions [in the bank tower]. They packed off interior glass and plasterboard to companies that could make use of the materials. Then, starting at the top of the 86,000-square-foot tower, they began removing the glass facade. A crane lifted pieces to a quay, where they were loaded onto barges in the Amstel Canal for the seven-mile trip upriver to Mr. Baars’s warehouse.”

A 2012 McKinsey report presented at the Davos World Economic Forum suggested that companies were missing out on opportunities to create new business models. “What if, for example, manufacturers could make more money by leasing, rather than selling, their products?

“Thomas Rau, an architect in Amsterdam, is a leading proponent of this idea. In 2015, he appeared in a Dutch documentary called The End of Ownership, in which he didn’t argue for abolishing ownership so much as for shifting it from individuals to manufacturers.

“If manufacturers retain ownership of their products, he argued, they will want to make products that last longer and need fewer repairs. Just as significant, they will want to design stuff that can be easily taken apart and used again. Theoretically, this could help consumers, too. No one wants to own a computer or television or washing machine, Mr. Rau claimed; they just want the services those products offer: computing ability, visual entertainment, textile cleaning. … Think about the speed with which subscription music-streaming services replaced ownership of CDs.” More at the Times, here.

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