Co-author of the “Cradle to Cradle Manual” and “Building a Circular Future”. Visiting professor in architecture in Munich, Delft, and Calgary. Kasper is also a circular economy advisor for the Danish Government and the City of Amsterdam, and recently was appointed Chairman for the development of European Standards for Circular Construction.
Kim: I understand Home.Earthis breaking ground on a new development this summer with the goal of being climate positive and affordable. How is that going and can you share some of your regenerative design approaches for the project?
Kasper: This is our first pilot project trying to reinvent real estate. We have high ambitions on being people positive and planet positive. That’s really the “it” goal, to try and leave positive footprints, environmentally and socially. The first project is 150 units with a high diversity of apartments and commercial activities and common activities that reflect society. We want to try and tailor a product or a delivery that reflects society. We want to have a place where people live, where they work, where you will meet high and low. And then we are, as developers, really trying to weave this community together. You can say it is city life as we want it to be and in the end we want people to be welcome and feel it as part of their ordinary life but actually it is very different. Diversity is also a way to have people meet and offer some difference from an ordinary new development.
Kim: When we consider the big picture, cities themselves are the biggest thing we humans build. I believe it is estimated there will be by 2030, 8.5 billion people on the planet. A large majority will be living in cities. In order to handle that, how do we motivate our architects, developers and citizens to embrace or engage in the circular economy and regenerative architecture now and not 5-10 years from now?
Kasper: It’s a huge industry and a huge responsibility and we can make a huge impact with how we design for the developments of our cities. We can work with different bottom lines so we do like a triple bottom line where we have our financial focus. This is a scalable business, it’s not just a demonstration of doing good. But we also are very careful in what are the social and environmental values that we create. We believe that we can make a community that is attractive and that is rich in diversity but also one where we have less risk. Where we have residents that take ownership. Where we have, you could say, a more secure investment.
So the way we tailor the development is really through a kind of financial logic and where we see the value of having social inclusivity and environmental, you can say “caterings”. Doing that, obviously we also take a long perspective. We keep our buildings as owners. We have an evergreen horizon where we can also talk about lifecycle costing, like investing in quality and designing our assets for circularity. We do map out all buildings in material passports. We design for flexibility, disassembly, and reuse and we are also the caretakers of our own buildings. It’s about better maintenance and better quality overtime. That goes for everything from the embodied carbon in the materials to the energy production and the operational carbon.
Kim: Ok. So looking at it more as a whole piece, what you’re looking for is longevity. Would that be a good focus for how people might change their views?
Kasper: Yes it definitely changes your perspective having ownership of the buildings that you develop. Most developments have a lot shorter perspective so you need to bring the value to the table within 1 to 3 to maybe 5 years from your opening and here we actually can take some longer perspectives that allows for different thinking.
Kim: One of your passions is material science and I was wondering are there any new materials that could change the way that we build today that you have researched or used?
Kasper: I’m really into materials and I like design, the design of material scale and all the possibilities that are out there. I am not particularly into any one category.
One filter that is a way to view the world is the carbon intensity.
What is the embodied carbon of materials? In Denmark we have a very strong tradition of precast concrete. And there are many benefits to that. It’s very scalable. It’s also very cheap. It’s very stable but it’s also very carbon intensive. If you look at your built environment and consider what is the climate impact of the materials you choose, it’s a completely different picture. I think it is important to use material from where people are living. What do you touch? What do you see? It has a huge importance in the narrative of your building and the emotions that you stimulate. We are very focused on bringing more warm, tactile biobased materials to the touch and the feel but also to the structure.
We are working with a material filter that everything in the interior can be exposed. We need to have a very precise understanding of the indoor air quality, of the off gassing of materials. So it’s really not about colors or compositions, it’s very much about the environment and the emotions that you stimulate with the materials that you choose. Those are the thoughts we have about the developments we are doing right now.
Kim: That sounds like a good list of criteria. I’ve heard you say before that you would like industry to see buildings as material banks. I was wondering if you could expand on that concept and give an example of a project where you utilized this?
Kasper: The financial logic in today’s investment perspective is that you have the full value of a building when you operate it, then you depreciate it to zero over a lifetime of 20-30 years. But there is an intrinsic value and we see that in the potential reuse of materials. How we treat our buildings, how we maintain them, and also, of course, how we then recycle the layers of the buildings after a lifetime of use. So we have value for our buildings even, that we have had in operation for 10 and 20 and 30 years. The intrinsic value is really your building as a material bank. How many quantities and qualities do we have of good steel, of good timber that can be reutilized in that way represents a value ongoingly.
Kim: It’s about reuse and not just putting it into a landfill. It’s not going to waste.
Kasper: It’s very much about that. It’s also about enabling a circular future. One thing is that everything is market driven and it needs to have scale. And it’s hard to prove a circular market on all product categories today. But if we don’t enable it, if we don’t design for disassembly and if we don’t document the values and the lifetimes of our buildings we won’t be able to put it into a future circular marketplace. It’s also about preparing for a circular future by being very precise in the information we want to collect today.
Kim: I’ve heard you mention Canadian architect Peter Busby when you’ve talked of regenerative architecture. What was it about his work that inspired you?
Kasper: Architecture represents more than just its geometrical boundaries. It’s also the impact that you can achieve with your cities, with your buildings. How can you make cities as forests where you can purify the air, where you can reuse your materials, where you can harvest energy. Those are some of the aspirations that I’ve talked to him about at various venues where we have met. We want to do more like this.. We want to create these positive footprints with what we do.
I remember the CIRS building in Vancouver. First time I visited it, it felt different. You had a conference center that was daylit. You had energy exchange with neighboring buildings. You had a living facade. You also had a living machine to clean the water of the building and all of this was kind of woven into the architecture. It becomes almost a dynamic entity, not just a static building.
Kim: And what advice would you give to young architects who are interested in regenerative architecture? I know you have co-authored several books, but I wondered if you had a roadmap or advice for them.
Kasper: Always try to do more with your building than the basic needs of an architectural program. It’s not just solving the functions, it’s adding quality. How can a building do more? It can be on a social level, it can be on an environmental level, it can be giving back to the city, beyond its own physical boundaries. But I also think it’s about not taking no for an answer, like “that’s not possible”. Keep pushing forward. And maybe you can’t find a solution from the viewpoint that you have today, but if you move around and change your perspective, you might come to a solution. I got a lot of motivation and energy when I was told that things were not possible. I think that’s also what we do at Home.Earth.
We tried to develop a new kind of financial model for how we create revenue for our stakeholders, all stakeholders, both our residents and our financial investors. Redefining revenue, not taking no for an answer and trying, always to get it into a design output not just an excel output. I think that’s one important thing to strive for.
Kim: One last question, as I understand it, donut economics is the balance between social and planetary boundaries ensuring that basic needs are met for all without putting too much pressure on our ecosystem. Can you expand on that as it relates to the built environment?
Kasper: I think this is the next frontier of understanding sustainability. To date most arguments are done in a relative logic. “We need to reduce twenty-five percent relative to last year”. It doesn’t really tell you if it is good or bad, it’s just relative. And the planetary boundaries, that is the scientific framework of the donut economics tells you what can the planet actually regeneratively deal with. There’s a limit to our CO2 footprint. For example the roadmap to 1.5 degrees is really the planetary boundaries of what the earth can do before there is an ecosystem collapse. It’s super hard because it goes from a planetary level. How do we then scale it back to countries, to industries, to square meters, to person load? But we are doing that at Home.Earth.
We are making an open method of a donut economy for the building industry. We are actually currently involved in trying to tackle that and how to measure it and also providing tools of how to deal with it. It’s a short answer, the next frontier of understanding sustainability. It’s a huge task because we are obviously on over consumption and how can we actually scale it back to an earth in balance.
Kim: It’s a big challenge but it’s good to hear that you are working towards that.
Thanks so much for your time today.
Kasper: Thank you Kim