Jan Wurm snakker på Building Green om emerging ecologic footprint
Jan Wurm,Professor Regenerative Design and Biofabrication in Architecture, KU Leuven

The planetary boundaries are a key to understand the ecologic footprint

Jan Wurm is Professor for Regenerative Design and Biofabrication in Architecture at KU Leuven. At Building Green Copenhagen 2-3 November 2022, he is participating in a debate  about the Living Future facilitated by IBT.

In this article you can read an interview with him.

What is your background and how do you work with sustainability?

With a background as a joiner, designer, researcher and consultant my drive is to widen the boundaries of traditional architectural practice, going beyond current notions of sustainability, and seeking new collaborations with biologists, environmentalists and ecologists, to explore regenerative futures where our human presence is restorative for the planetary health. Holding a leadership position at Arup and a professorship for Regenerative Design at KU Leuven gives me the opportunity to bridge between practice, education and research.

Which challenges and opportunities do you see within sustainable construction and architecture?

Fragmented global value chains and current business models of real estate focusing on short term revenues, are blocking systemic change towards regenerative outcomes. Bio-based materials with their cross-sector material flows and short carbon cycles can unlock new value creation fields and local value chains, strengthening local communities.

How and where can the building industry raise the sustainable ambitions according to you? 

We need both radical solutions on a small scale to inspire and showcase what regenerative architecture looks like, and a continuous transformation of the industry on a big scale. The fit-out accounts for roughly 15% of total carbon emissions along the whole life cycle. Given short service life of between 5 and 8 years and a more flexible regulatory context, the fit-out of wall, floor and ceilings is an opportunity to showcase the potential and benefits of bio-based materials and solutions at scale. To achieve a breakthrough, developers, materials suppliers, contractors and designers need to collaborate to develop and implement scalable building systems.

The theme at this year’s Building Green is ‘the way to absolute sustainability’. What does it take to get as close as possible to absolute sustainability? 

I believe in the year of 2022 every building design should provide consistent and complete information on its total environmental footprint across full life cycle to change current narratives of what good architecture looks like. The new narrative is needed to unlock the creative potential of the design community to move from sustainable to regenerative design.  The New European Bauhaus initiative (NEB) of the European Commission calling for inclusive, beautiful and sustainable places puts all designers of the built environment at the front stage of “absolute sustainability” in the European context.

To what extent should we address the planetary boundaries in each building project?

The planetary boundaries are a key framework to understand and visualize the ecologic footprint of building construction on our planet. I believe every project holds a potential for positive and regenerative outcomes for planetary health especially with respect to air, soil and water systems impacted by the building project.  

Which sustainable projects do you find interesting and innovative?

As director of Arup, I led the co-development of FORESTA with bio-tech company mogu. This modular internal fit-out system is composed of untreated regional timbers and acoustic absorbers from mycelium bio composite, cultivated on agricultural waste. This scalable building system, demonstrating both aesthetics and performance of alternative bio-based materials, is bridging the gap between radical small scale pioneering projects and the construction industry.

What do you talk about at Building Green Copenhagen?

I will join a panel discussion with Phil Ayres, Professor at CITA in Copenhagen on the opportunities and challenges of the emerging ecology and ecosystem of bio-based and bio-fabricated materials.

Do you conclusively have an appeal to the industry that you would like to share?

I have three appeals:

  • To materials suppliers: to declare environmental impacts for all building products along their full life cycle.
  • To the real estate industry: to make life cycle analysis the common ground for the value appraisal of all building projects.
  • To policy makers: to incentivize the development and up-scaling of bio-based materials and revision of regulatory context to support the transition to a circular bio economy in the construction sector.

Would you like to hear more from Jan Wurm?

At Building Green Copenhagen 2-3 November 2022, he is participating in a debate  about the Living Future facilitated by IBT. Read more here and sign up for free here.

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