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VenhoevenCS aims for a future-proof city

19-08-2020

VenhoevenCS aims for a future-proof city

VenhoevenCS architecture+urbanism is the first architectural firm with a level 5 certificate on the CO2 Performance Ladder. Because the organization has been working on sustainability across the board for years, there is a lot of in-house experience and the organization dares to think big. What will cities look like in 50 years? Helga Lasschuijt, General Manager and CO2 manager of the organization, gives her vision on this and explains the role that CO2 reduction and circularity play in this development.

How long has VenhoevenCS been working on sustainability?

'Sustainability has been on the map for our projects since the eighties of the last century. When a European tender was launched in 2015 in which our customer would receive an award advantage if we were to certify on the CO2 Performance Ladder, we did so. We had been calculating our footprint since 2009, so the step was not very big. I think the measurable, quantitative nature of the CO2 Performance Ladder is very good ' VenhoevenCS has been certified on the Ladder since 2016 and achieved the highest level, level 5, in 2017.

What has the CO2 Performance Ladder brought you?

Helga: 'The Ladder gives us a very clear picture of our CO2 reduction targets. We communicate this internally in our office, which means that there is a greater awareness of this than without the Ladder.' Helga also explains that audits or plenary meetings about the CO2 Performance Ladder regularly give cause to put forward ideas that stimulate sustainability within the organization. 'For example, even before corona, our ICT people came up with the idea of using Teams more, to further reduce our mobility and thus our CO2 emissions.'

Sustainability matrix

The fact that sustainability is alive within the organization is also apparent from the systematic approach with which VenhoevenCS looks at this and sets policy. Helga explains that the organization uses a matrix that determines the extent to which certain sustainability aspects are used in a project. 'For us, sustainability consists of four parts: CO2 reduction, conservation of natural resources, enrichment of biodiversity and as little pollution as possible. When we make a design for a building, for example, we try to score well on each of those aspects. That is difficult, because if you score well on one of the aspects, there is a good chance that you will either not have a budget left to achieve the maximum on another aspect; or even encounters inherent contradictions. A classic example of the latter is the high environmental impact of the materials in solar panels. On the other hand, we also use the matrix to identify opportunities: measures that, for example, reduce CO2 as well as make a positive contribution to our ecosystem. All in all, we can make good decisions with the matrix.'

Cities of the future

The sustainability matrix is also frequently used in urbanization projects. Helga: 'With such large projects we can really contribute to the transition in an accelerated way.' When asked how to respond to CO2 reduction, Helga replied: 'Mobility is very important to keep CO2 emissions as low as possible. The distances in the future city must be shorter, proximity is the keyword. Everything must be accessible on foot or with micro-mobility and cars must be kept out as much as possible. These take up too much valuable space that we can use for quality of life: to ground, to meet each other and for greenery.' Helga explains that many such self-sufficient micro-cities can stand together, with so-called 'hubs' in between, from and to where goods can be transported. According to VenhoevenCS, compaction is therefore an important way to reduce CO2. In the future city, circularity is being pursued, among other things, by systematically using reusable materials and components. Helga: 'We make extensive use of detachable elements that can be used on various projects. We think in terms of systems: with one project we already think about the next. For example, we predestined parts from a sports center that was about to be demolished for a sports center that would be built afterwards. In another project, we deliberately used untreated aluminum instead of traditional coated aluminum to make it easier for us to reuse it later. This systemic way of working, together with our large investment in research and agency-wide knowledge development, is also how VenhoevenCS distinguishes itself from other architectural firms.'

Is the development of future-proof cities economically feasible?

'In the 1990s, our working method was more difficult to implement, which at the time still clashed strongly with economically profitable thinking. Now clients also want to be more sustainable themselves and the question is whether they dare to take certain risks. For example, to use material that is durable, but has not yet been thoroughly tested.' Yet it is still the case that customers have other interests than sustainability and that profitability is still calculated on the basis of the old economy. 'Understandable,' says Helga, 'but that is why we are now investigating how we can make capital other than financial capital measurable and computable.' Capital such as health, social welfare, natural resources and infrastructure can then be included in the calculations: if such capital remains the same or grows, it also contributes to profitability. (Ed.: after the 'Four-Capital Method' by Paul Ekins) 'This way of thinking creates room for clients, developers or investors to attract other projects. For example projects in which much more CO2 is reduced.'

Read more here:
Research 'City of the future': how Rotterdam Alexander can be built more sustainably;
Chain analysis VenhoevenCS on shadow costs of materials.