Concrete Recycling

Concrete Recycling

The process of making concrete from sand, gravel, cement and water is irreversible. Or not? A new concrete recycling machine is able to split concrete into sand, gravel and cement that can be reused as separate parts. More than 30% of the cement in concrete never reacts chemically during production and can therefore be used in the production of new concrete. Since the production of cement and concrete causes 6% of global CO2 emissions, this new process can result in a great savings of CO2 emissions. The concrete recycling process enables the reuse of materials and can be carried out at the same costs as traditional processing. In the future it can even become cheaper.

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Bamboo Architecture

Bamboo Architecture

Chiangmai Life Architects and Construction designs and builds amazing structures in bamboo and earth. By combining these traditional materials with modern technology, they create sustainable buildings that fit today’s requirements. We interviewed Markus Roselieb, principal at the company.

Can you tell us something about the history of the company?

We started in 2009 when we moved to Chiang Mai from Bangkok and my wife found that there was no school that delivered a rounded teaching. So she decided to start Panyaden School and told me to build it for her. At that time we had the World Bamboo Congress in Bangkok and I was already reading about earth architecture and I decided to combine these 2 materials and started Chiangmai Life Construction.

You believe in the functionality of natural materials like bamboo, earth and rocks. In what ways are these materials superior to modern building materials?

I have been building all my life and previously renovated a beach house near Bangkok. There were always 2 problems with conventional construction materials: heat and corrosion. When you use conventional roof tiles that are usually some cement composite or clay tiles, you create an oven as these tiles are great heat transmitters. So you have to put insulation on the inside. As this is doesn’t protect 100% and is very ugly, you need to put a ceiling in between the roof and your room. Now created a box without natural airflow and need to put in an air-conditioner. The upper floors of most modern houses cannot be used without strong air-conditioning during the daytime and early evening.

If you use a natural material like bamboo, because its uneven densities it is a natural insulator and as we have a triple overlay with tar-sheets for water-proofing and further heat insulation in between, the heat insulation is quite good. The inside of this roof shows the bamboo structure and is a pleasure to the eye so no need for a ceiling. Thus you have a high room with additional possibilities of natural ventilation that cools the room further so no need for air-conditioning.

If we look at walls: what do we want from a wall: thermal insulation, noise insulation, a homely space, safety. When we compare concrete and earth:

Concrete walls Earthen walls
Thermal Insulation No Yes
Noise insulation No Yes
Homely space No Yes
Safety Yes Yes

Earthen walls have a great thermal mass. They protect against noise and create warm room feelings. And if you look around the earth you will find earthen houses that are hundreds of years old in every climate from Saharan Africa to China, Mexico to England, Germany to Japan.

Do you use these materials as they are or do you treat them to further improve on their properties?

The most important aspect for making bamboo a strong and lasting construction material is the right age selection. If the bamboo is too young it is full of sugar with little fibers. After about 3-4 years that ratio changes in favour of fibers and it becomes a strong construction material. Next is treatment with a borax salt. No chemicals just a salt that preserves and also increases fire resistance.

For earthen walls again material knowledge is essential for high quality and lasting results. We use three techniques: adobe bricks, rammed earth and wattle & daub. Each of these techniques has its particular characteristics and advantages under different circumstances and needs specialized preparation and knowledge, but no additives. We never “stabilize” our walls with cement. That is ignorant behaviour.

To what extent can the materials for your designs be sourced locally?

For us its 100%. For others it depends on whether you have bamboo and a treatment plant in the area.

Are there also parts of your designs where you deliberately choose a modern material?

Yes. I like the combination or juxtaposition of these natural materials with high-tech or clean modern items. From big glass walls with modern frames to built in TV screens, chrome lightings, modern bathrooms etc.

Did you find that the traditional craftsmanship to work with earth and bamboo was still available in Thailand or did you have to rediscover it?

There was never a tradition of earth or bamboo architecture in Thailand. The traditional architecture was wood based. So we had to learn from all over the world and train our staff. As I am mainly working with so called hill-tribe or displaced minorities as workers, they have grown up with bamboo and understand the material, even though for them it was never a material of choice. So I still had to teach them how to build in a high quality way.

Can you give a few examples of the type of buildings that you design and build?

Our first and most famous project is Panyaden International School. We built classrooms, support structures and now the famous Bamboo Sports Hall. We built landmark structures for resorts and companies, structures that capture the eye and imagination. We built a research center and lecture hall for a university and of course we design and build houses, rather on the high-end side like the Trika Villa.

Are your clients mainly in Thailand or do you also work on other countries?

Our company has to independent units:  architecture and construction. At this point we are open to design projects anywhere but our construction is restricted to Thailand and soon Burma.

What is your design philosophy?

We want to introduce clay and bamboo as mainstream construction materials for the human being of the 21st century. So we aim at a light, modern design that looks clean and appeals to the upper middle class to high-end customers of today’s world. We have to fight the perception that these are the poor man’s materials or commonly bamboo structures don’t live longer than 3 years as they are eaten by bugs or earth houses have a hippie feeling associated with them or dark, dirty and musty image. But all these images are not defaults inherent in the materials, these are results of ignorance or a certain mind-set of the designer or builder. So we try to design and build in a way that makes people smile and feel attracted through the eyes and the heart. They can see and feel and touch the quality and attention to detail. The walls are smooth and cool and no dust comes off, the ceilings are high and beautiful to behold.

Regarding the form, we let the location and the materials guide us. We don’t believe in boxes and prefer organic, flowing designs that we learn from nature. We try to fit the building into its environment and not impose it. That creates a more comfortable living atmosphere for the owner.

How important is it to design with the location in mind?

We live in the tropics where weather can be quite extreme. From intense sunshine to heavy monsoon showers – their direction and origin must be understood. Flood prevention is essential with earthen structures, what kind of animals might want to join the space? So design starts with function and location. We want to design structures that are actually used. They are used because their design and beauty is so convincing that there is no thought of an alternative. Unlike many houses in gated communities whose owners spend more time in their cars than in their houses because these are not liveable spaces. Come weekend they all leave their house to drive around. We want a house where the owners don’t want to leave because it is their dream place, they rather invite all others to join there. Or a school that children don’t want to leave in the afternoon like at Panyaden, where parents have to run after their children to fetch them to go home as the children love it there.


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Photo’s: courtesy of Markus Roselieb Chiangmai Life Architects and Construction

Swiss Solar Decathlon Team

Swiss Solar Decathlon Team

The Solar Decathlon competition for 2017 will be held in October in Denver Colorado. In this international competition student teams are challenged to design, build and operate solar powered, energy efficient, sustainable and attractive houses. We interviewed the Swiss team that will participate in the competition.

How would you describe the Swiss design for the Solar Decathlon in one sentence?

Thanks to our NeighborHub experience, you can reach a whole neighbourhood and learn in a community spirit about sustainable ways of life.

Which schools and universities participate in the team?

The Swiss Team is made up by students from the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), the School of Engineering and Architecture of Fribourg (HEIA-FR), the Geneva University of Art and Design (HEAD) and the University of Fribourg (UNIFR).

How did you organize the design process with such a large number of participants and specialities?

Team members were organized in seven working groups, named work packages, with a student manager for each group: Architecture, Engineering, Project Communication, Branding Communication, Partnership Development, Prototype Realization, Management. The work package Management had to ensure the general team coordination, information exchanges, budget tracking and work in close relation with the Solar Decathlon’s organisers. Everyone was aware of the challenge of being such a big team and gave his/her best.

The Solar Decathlon consists of 10 contests: architecture, health and comfort, market potential, appliances, engineering, home life, communications, water, innovation and energy. Which are the three aspects where your design scores exceptionally well?

We worked hard to perform well in the Communication and Architecture contests. Indeed, the NeighborHub has to adapt to a multitude of activities: a Repair space, urban gardening, eco-responsible cooking classes… More than a solar-powered house designed for a family, the project seeks to promote community spirit by offering a neighbourhood house where citizens can learn how to share more and use fewer resources. To sum up, our challenge was to build a house that would become our best communication tool, raise awareness and have an impact far beyond its surface.

About the Energy Contest, we took a bet : the NeighborHub has 29 solar panels that are all installed on its façades only, With this choice, the team demonstrates that it has now become feasible to rely entirely on wall-mounted solar panels. The building produces more than enough energy, even considering the risk of shade in urban environments. We believe that our strategy of concentrating power production on the façades makes us stands out starkly from our competitors.

The closed water cycle is one of the NeighborHub’s strong suits in the competition. We believe our “Every raindrop counts” strategy will help us win the Water Contest. The water used in the NeighborHub can be separated out into various types like for waste recycling. The rainwater collected on the roof is used for some domestic appliances. The waste waste water from these appliances, as well as from showers and sinks, gets used as grey water, which is treated using an on-site phyto-purification process: the water is filtered and purified using a reed bed with different layers of gravel. There is no “black water” from conventional toilets in the NeighborHub, as the building is instead equipped with dry toilets.

What have been the challenges in building the design?

There are several points that have strongly influenced our choice:

US security rules: the PV solar panels had to be UL certified; the integration of residential sprinklers (which are not used for residential building); the operating temperatures (of the fridge for instance that has to stay far colder than in Switzerland); the emergency exits that have to be different than in Switzerland, etc.

The transportation: the module’s dimensions had to enter in containers and the transportation’s extreme conditions, especially when crossing the Atlantic Ocean (humidity, temperatures, violent and perpetual movements, rust…), had a strong impact on the design. The competition rules have influenced the dimensions of the house (height, heated space or not heated space…)

All these challenges have pushed us to go further.

The built design has to be transportable because of the location of the Solar Decathlon in the USA. Did this requirement conflict with your other design goals?

Not really because it was integrated as a key point from the beginning of the design development. We integrated directly the notion of modular construction in order to have a transportable and quickly-assembled house.

Where are the biggest differences between the performance of your design and the current Swiss building requirements?

The fundamental difference is the concept of the NeighborHub itself. Current Swiss building requirements go in the direction of consuming less energy and producing renewable energy on-site. However, our NeighborHub goes further by presenting tools and alternatives about seven driving themes: energy of course but also water management, waste management, mobility food, materials and biodiversity.

What will the design be used for after its return to Switzerland?

The NeighborHub will return to Fribourg at the place where it has been built. It will contribute to the development of this new innovation square in the middle of Fribourg city. The NeighborHub will act there as either an initiator of changes or a space that brings people together to experiment sustainable solutions.

What do you consider the biggest inspiration that the team members get from participating in a project like this?

The team spirit: the collaboration, communication, discussions, development together towards the same objective. Each team member is important and helps reaching our common goal. This team spirit is like a proof for us that together we can build a better future.

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Photo’s: courtesy of Alain Herzog Swiss living challenge

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Science & Technology Today wishes all teams good luck in this exciting competition.


Dutch Solar Decathlon Team

Dutch Solar Decathlon Team

The Solar Decathlon competition for 2017 will be held in October in Denver Colorado. In this international competition student teams are challenged to design, build and operate solar powered, energy efficient, sustainable and attractive houses. We interviewed the Dutch team that will participate in the competition.

Can you tell us something about the team for your Solar Decathlon project?

Selficient started as a small project of five students majoring in engineering at the University of applied Sciences Utrecht. They submitted their concept into the Solar Decathlon and as the only University of Applied sciences, amongst higher level universities, they reached the finale. From then on, Selficient began to grow with students from all kinds of majors, not only from engineering, but also from Legal to Communications. The multidisciplinary team has various specialities at different fields, but physically building the Selficient house is what connects them.

How would you describe your design in one sentence?

We develop a self-sufficient house by using modern technologies and building accordingly to the principles of the circular economy and cradle-to-cradle philosophies.

Your design is based on life course adaptation. Can you explain what this means?

Every part of the house is possible to change, because Selficient is fully modular on different levels (e.g. adding or removing volumes, windows and facade cladding). With such kind of flexible building method, we provide the customer with choices that gives the necessary freedom to design a unique house. That is why Selficient is for everyone, no matter the situation. For example, if a first time buyer (couple) buys the house with one bedroom, do they need to move to a bigger house if they are expecting a child? This is a usual practice but not necessary with Selficient. Due to the modular structure they can easily add one more room to the house and keep living in their own home. Selficient adapts according to life situations. That is the future of housing.

How did you incorporate this goal into your design?

We made it possible in our design, by implementing modularity within the concept. It means every part of the house can be easily resized and (re)placed. Due to materials and components that are reusable, recyclable and, where possible, bio-based, nothing of the house will be to waste when you change your Selficient house.

Your design is also based on the circular economy and cradle to cradle. Were all the components you needed available in this standard?

Almost every component was available like we wanted. We had new technology from Schneider to implement in our house, we had help from Bsmart for installing the electrical wires and because of the beautiful framework of Suteki, it was a piece of cake to set the house up. For the wooden panels, we had Maatchalets customize it for us. In overall, the most components were there, but to make it work, we collaborated with various partners.

What were the lessons learned in the integration of all the different components?

The first time, we had to try different things. The integration process can be compared to LEGO: you have to puzzle and play with the blocks until they connect. That takes up a lot of time. Eventually, you will find a way to connect a compartment to another designated compartment. By trial-and-error, we developed a quicker way to build, which we will use in Denver at the Solar Decathlon site.

One of the features in your design is the greenhouse and the orientation towards the sun. How important are these features in regards to the goal of self-sufficiency?

The Greenhouse is a beautiful piece of our design, but it is not important for the goal of self-sufficiency. For the competition itself, we chose to leave the greenhouse out of the equation. Partly because of the little time that we have to prepare it, but also because it was not necessary.

Did you find that the goals of life course adaptation, circular economy and self sufficiency were opposing or reinforcing each other?

Well, with our concept, we think it reinforces our goals within self sufficiency. By changing the game from take, make and dispose (the linear approach), we go to a cyclical approach, where we will fully use the resources.

And how about affordability and the other goals?

Our prototype is not affordable for Everyman yet, but when you think about how easy it is to build a Selficient house, you can see the benefits. Not only are the materials prefab, you can also construct in such little amount of time and reuse and recycle all the materials when needed. It is not necessary to buy a whole new house, when a part is broken, you can replace it easily. In other words, it is a long-term investment and you can even make a profit via the energy you store. We believe that our greatest goal,  sustainable and affordable living for Everyman, will be in the best interest for all the next generations.

Will your design be the future building standard?

If we want to comply to the Paris Agreements and have a better future for the next generations, than the building standard has to change. Hopefully our design will make a difference.

What is the key thing you personally learned from participating in this project?

The most important thing we have learned from participating in this project is working together as a multidisciplinary team. We had to keep a healthy balance between our personal lives, school, work and Selficient team.

We all developed in a professional matter and felt the pride and support from our school, Utrecht University of Applied Sciences. We took our wins and losses as a team. But we are not there yet. We are ready to take the next step and develop our professional skills abroad. We are going to Denver with one team full of bright minds, created by other angles and perceptions of each individual.

We are thankful for this project, the experiences from it and for each teammate that made Selficient possible.

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Photo’s: courtesy of Selficient.

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Science & Technology Today wishes all teams good luck in this exciting competition.