Buildings can contribute to sustainable urban development

19 February 2019 3 min. read

Today’s best performing buildings in the area of sustainability are energy, water or waste neutral. Beyond the current concepts of best practice however lies a whole new approach to development in the built environment. Buildings which actively improve their surroundings – be it from a single neighbourhood to entire cities.

To confront tomorrow’s needs, development must steer towards buildings that uplift their surrounding locales, says an expert from Except Integrated Sustainability, a Dutch consulting firm. During the next century, society will begin to see the effects of climate change, population growth and urbanisation putting strain on cities. To combat the increasing stress on urban civilisations, uplifting the sustainability of existing infrastructure is becoming pertinent.

“The majority of the infrastructure that is going to house people this century has already been constructed. So the challenge is not to build new sustainable buildings, but to ‘sustainify’ the buildings that already exist,” says Except’s Director, Tom Bosschaert.

“For some that’s doable, but most buildings, especially residential houses, won’t experience such major renovations within the next 15 years. This leaves us with a major design flaw in an integral timeframe. The solution is building buildings which act as a catalyst,” he continues.

The term catalyst has been deduced from science and is defined as: an agent or compound for change, that is added to a process to make a chemical reaction happen more quickly. However the catalyst itself is not consumed in the catalysed reaction and can continue to act repeatedly.

Buildings can contribute to sustainable urban development

“A catalytic building is a building which enhances the resilience of the existing urban environment that it inhabits,” Bosschaert says. “They’re the Formula 1 of high performing buildings. They go beyond the limits of LEED Platinum or BREEAM Outstanding and become a vital organ in the fabric of their surroundings.” 

Except is a sustainable development, innovation and design consultancy based in Utrecht, The Netherlands. The consulting firm has bridged the gap between strategy, architecture, urban planning, construction industries and future making for the past 20 years. The firm’s recently released approach to sustainable development in the built environment – Catalytic Buildings – contends that there is little use having a fully self-sustainable building in a city which is in decline.

“Catalytic Buildings give direction to the aim of performance of smart cities,” he says. “If you start thinking about the system as a whole, and the building as a part of that system, you begin understanding the potentials for a neighbourhood approach to urban development. You don’t need to rewire the entire city for it to make a large impact.”

The sustainability expert foresees that real estate professionals and city municipalities could consider using a building as a tool. “A Catalytic Building leverages what a neighbourhood has to offer and actively improves it. They do this in a physical sense, but also in a social and economic sense,” Bosschaert says. “This is about bridging gaps between urban planning and architecture, as well as going beyond the physical core of the building. Catalytic buildings open up new, innovative business models for investors and developers which are just waiting to be tapped.”