Reading about circular economy

While preparing for our new module ‘Circular economy for the Built Environment: Principles, Practices and Methods’ I was reading three papers today in an effort to select some required readings for our students.

I first read Ghisellini et al (2016) ‘A review on circular economy: the expected transition to a balanced interplay of environmental and economic systems‘. This is a very comprehensive review of a large amount of papers, however, the results from this review were a little inconclusive. In the end, the paper reiterates the different approaches taken in China and the EU, while China employs top-down planning and the EU bottom-up planning. The paper also stresses the need for good business models.

I then read chapter 18 ‘Products & Services’ from Lacy et al.’s book ‘The Circular Economy Handbook’. This chapter discussed possibilities to improve products during all stages of the product life-cycle from design, to use, to use extension, to end of use. I liked the inclusion of ‘use extension’ as a separate phase in the product life-cycle, certainly something we should do much more explicit. The chapter also again stressed the need for good business models, as well as, developing a sound understanding of the product portfolio of a company.

Finally I read Bocken et al. (2016) ‘Product design and business model strategies for a circular economy’. I truly enjoyed reading the paper as it introduced a strong framework about how to design products for slowing down the resource loop and for closing the resource loop. I thought these two goals are quite helpful concepts to think along when designing products. To slow loops, the authors suggest to design for attachment and trust, reliability and durability, ease of maintenance and repair, upgradability and adaptability, standardization and compatibility, as well as, dis- and reassembly. This reminded me at the classical idea of ‘ilities’ from de Weck. To close resource loops the authors suggested to design for a technological cycle that allows to reuse technical materials and sub-products, as well as, for a biological cycle. I found this again a powerful guide for designing products.

Demystifying Building Performance Simulation ?

In the last years I was working with a lot of organizations, trying to explore how to better integrate advanced building performance simulation into the design and engineering processes for buildings. The struggle often is to figure out in what detail simulations are helpful during different stages of design. I have been working with companies that targeted very early decision making to support real estate developers all the way to companies that provide sophisticated consultancy in very detailed design phases. For me results are not conclusive and I really would like to do much more detailed and structured research. The farthest we are coming with our insights is in the area of supporting the renovation of buildings in two large EU funded research projects (P2Endure and BIM-Speed). Here we suggest that detailed building performance models of the existing buildings need to serve as a first step in the design process. These behavioral digital twin can then form a baseline to explore different building renovation options. A key within these efforts is to generate a baseline of the building behavior that normalized factors that are out of the control of the design, such as, weather or occupancy behavior, that cannot be statistically modeled to allow for fair comparision. From the technology development aspect at our firm Contecht we probably came furthest in setting up parametric modeling tools that allow for early simulations and host these tools through dedicated APIs that we developed in web-based design tools.

Scaling the renovation of buildings

Upgrading the European building stock is still painstaking slow. Only around 2% of the buildings are renovated yearly, while a large part of the building stock still originates from the 60s. So why is up-scaling so hard, when we have also very positive cases, such as for example, the Berlin housing corporations who renovated large parts of their building stock already a decade ago? In our EU funded research project P2Endure we found that one inherent problem is that renovation approaches are very dependent on the local typology of buildings and the social fabric of their inhabitants. Therefore, renovation approaches cannot be scaled on a large scale. The alternative are local entrepreneurs, architects and engineers that are willing to develop businesses around developing renovation solutions for specific districts, the type of buildings in this district, and can get in close contact with the locals.

More information about the P2Endure project.

Report: Technical and alliance plan for temporary local renovation factory at a district level​

Leadership in Engineering Meetings

Observing our students during the project assignments, we found that that leadership in integrated engineering meetings is emerging. At different times in the meetings different people take leadership roles according to the style of leadership that is required at the specific time of the meeting. Who is in lead heavily depends on the meeting dynamics and can hardly be predicted. For managing these meetings these findings mean that efforts to structure these meetings or to assign dedicated project managers to lead these meetings could be counter-effective. Moderators might still be important, but they need to step back and rather foster others to move into leadership roles, something that might come rather non-intuitive. We are working on a paper to publish these results, I will keep you posted!

The science of integrated engineering

Engineers invent, design, analyze, build, test and maintain complex physical systems, structures, and materials to solve some of societies most urgent problems, but also to improve the quality of life of individuals. Engineering is artifact-centered and concerned with realizing physical products of all shapes, sizes, and functions. At intengineering I am motivated by the quest to empower these engineers to cope with the ever increasing complexity of the systems they have to provide. I provide science and innovation based reports, thoughts, ideas, and interesting news – informal, but current – thought provoking and open.