Hans Goverde: "World-wide competitions like the Green Solutions Awards can bring a big spotlight"

Hans Goverde received a special jury mention in The Green Solutions Awards 2016 for Venlo City Hall, a building competing in the Sustainable Construction Grand Prize category. He tells us about the revolutionary approach of the project and looks back on his participation to the contest.

What is your practice in sustainable construction?

Hans Goverde: I am an architect and a partner in a well-established and 90-year old firm, Kraaijvanger Architects. Our firm acquired reputation after World War II during the reconstruction of the Netherlands and started attracting innovation and new talents even then. Today we work on public buildings and inner cities. We focus our work on circularity, on projects that have a value by generating energy, clean air, good health. That’s how we came to work on a cradle to cradle approach (C2C), from the interior architecture to urban planning.

How was the Venlo City Hall project born?

H.G.: Venlo is a city in the Netherlands, very close to the German border. It was the first Dutch city to implement the cradle to cradle approach in its policies and projects on a full scale. For example, the C2C approach exists in their purchases, it is also taught in their public schools. The local government wished to follow a philosophy that could bring businesses in and it’s paying off: we see the slow apparition of a “C2C Valley” around Venlo for businesses who follow those principles in their production and services. The goal is to have a complete C2C local economy by 2030, and the Chamber of Commerce supports Venlo in this project.

Naturally, this project needed a flagship. As Venlo City Hall needed to be replaced they launched a European wide tender asking for a design-approach, not a design. The approach had to mirror the philosophy followed by the city: cradle to cradle. 50 candidates applied, Kraaijvanger Architects was selected.

How would you define the C2C approach?

H.G.: The C2C philosophy means to stop producing waste, unlike our current civilization. When you produce something it needs to be thought through from birth – the first cradle – to its death – the second cradle. It means that from the earliest stage, designers think their product through: will the production generate a lot of waste? Can the materials employed for the product be reused after it is no longer usable? The C2C philosophy professes the virtues of upcycling and products generating value. In a way, Jeremy Rifkin meets that philosophy when he talks about buildings that no longer only consume energy but also produce and distribute it. Before 2010, our firm focused on NZEB (Net Zero Energy Buildings). After a workshop with Michael Braungart, we understood that C2C is a much more holistic and comprehensive view to work with, and public health is at its core center.

How does the C2C philosophy translate into the building in terms of solutions?

H.G.: We approached the project with one crucial question: “How do we add value to this building and the world around it?”. The first answer was to create a building providing cleaner air. That’s why we designed the City Hall as a green lung for the city. Fine dust particles are a real threat to people. Research showed that lots of people live shorter because of this. We wanted a building to be a cleaning machine. In order to do that, we used very healthy materials, we tested them thoroughly and they are C2C certified. A green lung also implies plants, hence the green walls of the building which harbors biodiversity, has a cooling effect on the envelope, cleans the air and last but not least it also brings natural beauty. Also, the inner circulation of the air goes through that same green lung. Of course we had to prove the efficiency of such a system. We did it with a mock up in a university lab. It showed a reduction of 30% pollution in the air filtered through the green lung.

Another value provided by the building is water purification and reuse for the bathrooms and the watering of the green lung.

Another health-related value was to create a building that improves the health of its users and visitors in order to reduce absenteeism. That was achieved by designs that make users circulate and move around, inciting the use of stairs rather than elevators that we kept kind of hidden. Together with the healthy materials and clean air we create a environment that make people happier and healthier.

Such an amount of solutions, experimental for some, must have a high cost.

H.G.: It was of course an important matter in our approach. The city of of Venlo wouldn’t not have accepted any project without a good business plan. We thought a building that costs less in the long run and that’s how you need to look at any building project. The first step was to build the business plan with the client. We selected materials with an upcycling value. We asked manufacturers what price they would pay for the return of their materials after 10-20 years. The interior materials reach 18% of their original value, 5% for the envelope materials. When they get those materials back they can reuse them as resources for a new cycle. The business plan also included a study by 3 universities on the health of the building users. With less sick leaves, the building allows to save money. Last but not least, of course the building is very energy efficient with very thorough insulation.

Overall, in 40 years of existence, we calculated that the building will gain back 15 million € back.

What benefit did you get from participating to the Green Solutions Awards?

H.G.: Our participation to the competition helped a lot in raising awareness on the C2C philosophy. This new approach for a building gets us a lot of attention. The building received 16 000 visitors, with 4 tours a day. Visitors come from China, South Africa, Taïwan. In this pioneering context, all the attention we can get is welcome. The Green Solutions Awards were another way to show professionals around the word that C2C buildings are possible, we can do it. The professionals are not the only ones interested in this philosophy, we get more and more calls from manufacturers asking us how they could follow these principles. They are more and more concerned with health and well-being. That’s what world-wide competitions like the Green Solutions Awards can bring to pioneers and innovators: a big spotlight.


Moderated by : Julien MARQUES

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