Conversation with Wilco Scheffer and Gert Jan Samsom about sustainable design and construction

Nature-inclusive, climate-adapted, circular and energy-positive … the ambition for the new building for Aeres University of Applied Sciences in Almere was several, which resulted in an intelligent and versatile design. In the first section of a new series on sustainable design and construction, in collaboration with BNA, a conversation with the architects Wilco Scheffer and Gert Jan Samsom from BDG Architecten about their approach to this project.

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No fewer than 11,000 plants have been accommodated in the east façade and part of the south façade. The west façade and hovering over the roof terrace include a total of 700 PV panels in glass slats. The high sustainable ambitions here are immediately visible to all.

The building is located in Almere on the banks of the Weerwater, on the site where the Floriaden will take place in the next six months. The lattice structure at this horticultural exhibition offered the university college used a relatively small area. In order to accommodate the 4,000 square meter education here, the vocational college had to step up a gear. The relatively small roof, in turn, meant that almost half of the desired solar panels ended up in the facade. The height also gave the opportunity to realize a really big green facade here.

The theme for the Floriad is ‘Growing Green Cities’. According to architect Wilco Scheffer, this building is a great example of what is possible in that area: Such buildings would be very appropriate in our big cities. Here, the nature-inclusive architecture also matches the training located in the building: ‘Food, Nature & Urban Green’.

In the podcast, architect Gert Jan Samsom discusses the construction of the green facade and how it is built. Ultimately, it consists of all kinds of native plants, which are automatically supplied with water in the rear structure. Nest boxes for birds, insects and butterflies are included in the facade.

Inside, the green continues in a route that winds up from the ground to the roof. The ‘green lung’ is what architect Gert Jan Samsom calls it. All the green has a positive effect on human and animal well-being, the architects emphasize, and it is the students in this education who are also investigating.

Circularity was the central theme in the further materialization of the building. The facades, which do not include green, are clad with biocomposite. The wooden floors in the ‘green lung’ are made of recycled wood. As much concrete granulate as possible has been incorporated into the hollow plate floors used, which are removably mounted on a modular steel construction.

The tender rules hinder circular design and sometimes construction, the architects found. It is therefore not possible to reserve materials and products from demolished buildings before the actual tender date. You can not use recycling frames or recycled glass, Scheffer explains. Because what you use in the facade is, for example, related to the installations you use. Already in the design phase, it must be clear exactly how the facade is to be built – if it is only clear in the construction phase, it is too late. Samsom adds that the range of recyclable materials and products also varies widely and that the supply time is actually too short to anticipate this. A lot of recycled metal stud walls have been used in the building. But the architects would have liked much more of that. At the time of the tender, however, the tender was limited.

Finally, Scheffer and Samsom zoom out into the podcast. They prefer to design buildings with almost no installations. The many passive elements in the design of Aeres University of Applied Sciences illustrate this ambition. At the same time, the architects hope to be able to use more wood in buildings in the future. But sustainability always starts with the design of a good, robust and flexible hull. It has always been the basis of their designs, the architects emphasize, and it will be.

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