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The global demand for raw materials, including food, electrical goods and clothes, continues to grow at a worrying pace – and building materials are no exception. The Dutch government, therefore, has been working with the real estate sector to find smarter and more efficient ways of using raw materials. So ‘Eurobuild’ decided to take a look at a few prime examples of such projects that have already successfully come into use in Amsterdam, Utrecht and Rotterdam, and in the process can serve as an inspiration for other countries.
A court made of Lego bricks
Over the next few months, the dismantled building of the Temporary Courthouse in Amsterdam is to be completely reassembled in the Kennispark Twente business and science complex in Enschede on the border with Germany, 150 km from the city. The app. 5.400 sqm building formed part of the temporary courthouse within the Parnascomplex on the city’s Parnassusweg thoroughfare. The courthouse operated here for five years until a new permanent court complex was developed on the same site. The Central Government Real Estate Agency (RVB) put the project up for tender in the form of a ‘design, build, maintain & remove’ contract, which was awarded to DPCP – a partnership between Cepezedprojects and Du Prie Bouw & Ontwikkeling. Cepezed and Cepezedinterior were responsible for the integral architectural and interior design of the project, while Du Prie took care of its execution. RVB had the specific aim with this DBMR-project of avoiding waste as well as maximising the building’s residual value after its initial period of use. The building has therefore been designed to be highly adaptable, allowing for different functions for various users in the future, as its relocation and re-use are embedded in the contract. In order to ensure the structure was as customisable and as much part of the circular economy as possible, it was designed in kit form, so that it could be easily assembled, disassembled and then reassembled. Now that the new court is completed, the old building can be moved as planned.
“Around 95 pct of the building has been moved to the new site – all the structural elements, the partition walls, the lifts, the façades, the interior fittings. even the furniture. In fact, only some of the installations will be new, as required by the building regulations. Its reassembly costs are similar to the construction of a new building, but there will be enormous benefits for the environment – another 2,000 tonnes of CO2 would have been produced otherwise,” explains Menno Rubbens, an architect and the CEO of Cepezed and Cepezedprojects.
The building is expected to come back into use at the end of 2022, but with the new function of an office and educational facility. As Menno Rubens points out, the holding cells of the former courthouse will be put to much more pleasant uses at the new address.
Making another Circl
Another impressive construction project can be found not far from the courthouse – the headquarters of ABN Amro, one of the largest banks in the Netherlands. This is the Circl pavilion, in Zuidas, the most exclusive office district of Amsterdam. It has been constructed entirely in line with circular principles through the use of recycled and re-usable materials. This is not just another boring bank office building, but a living laboratory for experimenting in innovation. It is also a new hotspot in the district – with a restaurant, a rooftop bar, event and coworking space – and is freely accessible. All the windows of the building have been transplanted from other dismantled office buildings – a head office of Philips and, more interestingly, an old headquarters of ING Bank, a direct competitor of ABN Amro. The floors of the offices have been moved from fifty other buildings, while the new wooden construction elements have been built using wood from local forests. This approach has enabled the carbon footprint of the project to be reduced by around 40 pct.
“One interesting feature is that the elevators in the building were not bought by the investor, but leased from their manufacturer, Mitsubishi Electronics. We pay a specific rate for each floor the lifts move between. A popular joke within the company is that Mitsubishi convinced the architects to include a steep narrow staircase so that it could increase its revenue. Seriously, though – such a feature greatly encourages the employees into physical activity,” insists Niina Pussinen, a sustainability consultant at Circl.
The insulation of the building has been made out of fibres taken from 16,000 pairs of old jeans donated by the bank’s employees, while the corporate uniforms for sales room employees are made out of recycled insulation materials. According to those working in the building, there have been no cases of allergies resulting from this. The Circl building has also since been quite successful as an investment product – it was bought by an undisclosed investor in the autumn of 2021.
Greenery more important than bucks
In the Zuidas district of Amsterdam, the Zuidasdok project is currently under development – one of the largest infrastructural projects in the Netherlands. The intention behind this is to improve the accessibility of Zuidas district and the northern part of the Randstad conurbation, both in terms of road and public transport. Zuidasdok is a joint venture between the Directorate General for Public Works and Water Management, ProRail and Amsterdam city council. However, those involved in realising the project have made sustainability a top priority. Currently, there is enormous interest in energy-efficient buildings, circularity, green areas, and water – in, on and around buildings. Together with the Zuidas business community (cooperating through such organisations as Hello Zuidas and the Zuidas Green Business Club), a culture has been fostered of taking responsibility for the neighbourhood being both environmentally-friendly and energy-neutral.
“The city, which now owns the site, set very high requirements for investors in terms of the pro-environmental approach to Zuidas’ development. All the buildings in this district have to be built to achieve BREEAM ‘Gold’ certification or its equivalent, including the residential projects. The urban planning of the district is also resident-oriented. The value of the recreational and sports areas for the residents and office users comes to app. USD 1 bln,” estimates Gijs Velsink, a spokesperson for the Zuidas project.
Since the entire Zuidas site lies below sea level, the issue of water management is crucial for the entire project. A drainage system along the roads and a new canal are now to be built especially for the district. Special greenery has been planted that not only drains water, but will also become a huge green zone – in fact, a kind of swamp 30–40 cm in depth. Gijs Velsink insists that it will be completely safe, even for kids – the only way they could possibly harm themselves is if they start eating the mud.
Oasis for entrepreneurs
Rotterdam’s BlueCity, another international poster boy of the circular economy, is also obviously worth a mention. This national platform for the circular economy is located in a former subtropical swimming complex called Tropicana, a well-known building on the Nieuwe Maas river bank, but one that had sadly fallen into disuse and disrepair. Now sustainable and circular economy entrepreneurs are giving the slides and hot tubs in the 12,000 sqm complex a new meanings, functions and value. Superuse Studios and COUP have transformed the building to make it as sustainable as possible by re-using old elements and materials both from within the complex as well as from other derelict buildings.
“A flexible office structure has been created inside the huge area once used as a dance hall. For its construction, windows from a demolished building in Maastricht have been installed. As much as 93 pct of the materials used in its construction are recycled. Small production companies operate in the basement, producing, for example, paving stones, but also a local beer,” reveals Niels Braamse, the relations and sales manager at BlueCity. Other firms include Fruitleather, which uses wasted fruit from the Port of Rotterdam to manufacture a strong leathery material that can be used for making bags and books; another is clothing brand KEES, which recycles car and bicycle tyres into unique accessories and also employs people who would otherwise have problems entering the job market. In addition to this, BlueCity is a partner of two European projects: Plastic Twist, which aims to revalue recycled plastic using blockchain technology; and Waste Few (Waste Food-Energy-Water Urban Living Labs), which aims to map and substantially reduce the food, energy and water waste in three cities across Europe, Africa and South America.
A village full of invention
Another hotbed of eco-friendly initiatives can be found with Green Village, a field lab owned by the Delft University of Technology (TU Delft). This has been set up for academic and educational institutions, enterprises, government bodies and civilians to carry out research into and then refine and demonstrate their sustainable innovations. The lab focuses on the urban environment, so innovations can be tested in a neighbourhood, or at the street and building level. The Green Village is a place where people can live, work and learn, exempt of standard rules and regulations. The research carried out here varies widely in its scale and nature.
At the entrance to the village, visitors encounter a huge tube very similar to Elon Musk’s Hyperloop vacuum track. In fact, it is a prototype of a similar invention. This apparatus is the work of the Hardt startup in collaboration with construction firm BAM. Hardt is the first European company to focus on the development of a hyperloop with the aim of further developing this technology for high speed means transport. The test apparatus comprises an elongated steel vacuum chamber with a total length of 30 meters and a diameter of almost 3 metres. Hardt will use this to test all the essential systems at low speed in a vacuum, such as the hyperloop propulsion system, the levitation system and the safety systems. Transportation via the hyperloop is fast, sustainable, safe and reliable – people and cargo are able to travel through the very low-pressure tubes at speeds of up to 1,080 km per hour. In order to stimulate the development of hyperloops, Elon Musk’s SpaceX has already held the ‘Hyperloop Pod Competition’. The founders of Hardt are members of the winning team of this international competition, which took place in Los Angeles at the start of 2017. A less cosmic, more down-to-earth project is Drainline – a system constructed from recycled plastic held together with a special binder that looks like a regular tile but possesses much higher permeability. Water can pass along it, but leaves and dirt can’t – they remain on the surface. In this location, Drainline is to be used to test the infiltration capacity and filtering of the local rainwater. In addition, it will also be tested for how the weather conditions affect the quality of the product. And what form will electric charging in the future take? According to another startup, Tiler, it will come in the form of an intelligent and efficient pavement charging tile for e-bikes and other types of light electric vehicle. This innovation will do away with exploding batteries, vandalised bike stations and plugging-in problems – all you need to do is to park your bike on a compatible kickstand above the tile and then wait for a moment, claim the inventors of the charger. This innovation, which got off the ground with a patent from TU Delft, is an efficient, flexible and powerful means of inductive energy transfer. The tile itself is powered by electricity, i.e. it is simply connected to an alternating current. Then it is converted into a direct current with a switching frequency.
“The frequency is passed through a coil, while a magnetic field is generated by the ferrites and the same thing happens on the other side (of the bike). There, the magnetic field is fed back into a coil and then converted back into a direct current and then back into an alternating current and finally into the battery. The good thing about this system is that it runs at a high power level – unlike your phone with only 2 watts, we can go up to 500 watts and it’s also very efficient,” explains Christiaan Nispen, the founder and CEO of Green Village.
A bike in top gear
We couldn’t have written about the Netherlands without a few words about its most popular form of transportation – the bicycle. And the world’s largest bicycle park can now be found the largest public transport hub in the Netherlands: Stationsplein Utrecht, which was built by a consortium of the city council, ProRail and Dutch Railways and opened in 2019.
The parking area contains 12,500 bicycle spaces under the same roof as the city’s main train station. It has three levels linked by ramps and one-way lanes exclusively for cyclists, who can be directed to the free spaces by a digital system guide. The cyclists check in and out with a public transport chip card. The first day of parking is free of charge, but abandoned bikes are removed after 28 days.
The bicycle park forms part of the Utrecht cycle infrastructure system, which uses the same parking system and mobile app – as is a much smaller bike park, located in the basement of the former Galeries Modernes department store in the city centre. The building has a total area of more than 12,000 sqm, of which 7,400 sqm is office space. The rest of the building is occupied by shops, restaurants and the public bicycle storage area. In this new bike park, the first day of use is also free of charge, while each subsequent day costs 50 eurocents. An annual subscription can be bought for EUR 75. Entry and exit are done by the guard, who scans your bike’s code. “It took a great deal of effort to convert the old dark storage space into a modern, user-friendly bike park. Our initial idea was to provide friendly navigation and an open guard station – the guard doesn’t sit in a booth behind toughened glass, but comes out to meet the cyclists, greeting them and chatting in a friendly manner. For this reason, the car park is eagerly used not just by local residents, but also by people coming from quite a long distance,” claims Dmitri Levin of Movares Architect. Mother, for example, who cycle in with a child in a safety seat are provided with the free use of a stroller for the rest of their stay.
Since the bike park is located a good way below ground level and the installation of elevators wasn’t possible, cyclists have to access the parking spaces via steep ramps. This could have made it difficult to enter and exit the bike park, but this problem was solved by installing two rails: “Cyclists going down to the parking area just have to put their bikes’ wheels into a narrow rail with brushes on the inside. These clean the dirt of their tyres, but they also act as a brake that allows the bicycle to go steeply downhill in a controlled fashion. Along with this, a movable rail was installed – once a bike’s wheels are sat inside it, it pulls it out of the garage,” explains Dmitri Levin.
Floating cows ahead!
Another impressive circular economy project that’s worth checking out is situated close to the BlueCity in Rotterdam. Imagine a farmer with 40 cows and who has robots that make the dairy products, distribute the fodder and clear the manure – and all of this is floating on the water in the largest port in Europe. The Floating Farm is the first self- sufficient farm on the sea in the world. According to Peter van Wingerden, the CEO of Beladon and the initiator of the Floating Farm: “There are many good reasons to bring dairy production as close to consumers as possible. An increasing number of people live in the big cities, far away from where dairy production takes place. A massive amount of transportation is required to deliver these products to consumers and this means increased pollution and a heavy burden on our infrastructure. If we can find a way to move dairy production to urban areas, we will be able to reduce both pollution and the need for transportation,” he argues.
Circularity is an essential principle for the Floating Farm. The water supply and drainage, the generation of energy, the waste processing and the feeding are all to take place within the Floating Farm’s ‘closed system’. The use of solar energy, the production of cattle feed using LED lighting, the collection of urine and manure for recycling into compost, the cleaning and re-use of rain water – this will all be done, ensuring that the Floating Farm won’t leave behind any negative footprint. The cows are fed grass mowed in the city’s playgrounds and parks, and then the first-class, environmentally-friendly manure is used to fertilise such land. But the most difficult part of organising such a farm has been the formalities. For example, the Dutch animal protection authority requested documented proof that the cows wouldn’t get seasick and that they would be comfortable on the rolling deck of the farm. It took quite a long time to find a vet who could confirm that cows are ok with long-term exposure to the movement of the sea, but eventually one was found.
In place of a summary
“Forty years ago, the Netherlands’ natural environment was in a dire state – we had poisoned air, undrinkable water, mountains of rubbish. Today, we recycle 83 pct of our waste, while only about 3 pct ends up in landfills. According to my own estimations, our economy is now 25 pct circular, but in 2016 the government launched an extensive programme to achieve an entirely circular economy in the Netherlands by 2050,” emphasises Arnoud Passenier, a strategic international advisor to the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management of the Netherlands. Few people doubt that they will manage to do this.
‘Eurobuild’ would like to express its sincere gratitude to Daria Idsardi of the Embassy of the Netherlands in Poland and to Rik Roeske of the Netherlands Enterprise Agency for their assistance in organising a study tour and providing materials