15 September 2020

Better Building Performance – interview with architect Duzan Doepel of DoepelStrijkers

What does better building performance really mean? For Wavin, it means we are enabling an efficient building process through BIM (Building Information Modeling) and prefabrication. And we are increasing comfort through energy-efficient heating, cooling, ventilation and noise reduction. We need to create healthier, more efficient buildings that shape the way we live, work and play. That is what sustainability is all about. Now, more than ever, the role of architects in delivering innovative, future-fit building solutions – working alongside like-minded companies – are the way forward. Architects, like Duzan Doepel and his firm DoepelStrijkers understand this only too well. His team of innovative architects design environments to support human resilience, health, and wellness while delivering value through lifecycle cost analysis and reducing consumption of energy and carbon.

Duzan Doepel – Innovation-driven building design for a healthy, sustainable future

There is really no one-size-fits-all solution to improving building performance. And architect Duzan Doepel, co-founder of DoepelStrijkers (based in Rotterdam, the Netherlands), understands that each building has a unique set of capabilities and limitations. Energy efficiency is the logical starting point and a critical element in the effort to reverse the effects of climate change.

Born and raised in South Africa and now living in The Netherlands, Duzan was impressed with what he calls the free-thinking, liberal, open-minded “Dutch Approach” – always looking to expand beyond the current borders of their respective professions. In this case, architecture.

The Dutch Windwheel is a driver for innovation and in, some countries, an icon for sustainable transition.
Duzan Doepel

The New Way of Building

Duzan talks about The New Way of Building: CO2 neutral, circular and climate resilient. When asking him about the role of architecture in the new way of building, he starts talking about our past crises and how history is actually repeating. Duzan says: “A crisis always forces us to change our way of thinking. Take the oil crisis in 1973, for example. Architects stood up with a call for a much more sustainable way of working, which led to the first wave of sustainable architecture: the use of local sources of raw materials and studying climate change (bioclimatic design). Architecture can contribute to socio-economic development; we are not here to ‘just’ create something beautiful, we are here to make an impact. Fast forward to 2007-2012, the next crisis. These led to a call for circularity, climate change adaptation, etc. Again, the same questions, but in a new package.” And look what is happening right now, with another crisis coming our way.

Another important thing is seeing the end-user or end-customer happy when you deliver a project. That's what is great about my job: it's creative and every day we see happy end-users. We are getting rewarded almost on a daily basis!
Duzan Doepel

The City as a Climate Machine

Adapting to the climate is not something new in architecture. We have been developing cities and villages based on local climate for a long time now. In Greece, for example, where narrow streets, white-colored houses and no (or small) windows were all designed to keep people cool in hot summers. This is urban morphology – the study of the formation and transformation of cities and villages over time. According to Duzan, “We kind of lost that, as designers. We now design buildings where the indoor climate is always a constant 21 degrees Celsius. But through technology, not through design.” Also, cities are getting denser by the minute. Adding an extra floor on a building influences the micro-climate. Planting trees has an influence. It’s critical to have smart intervention in the micro-climate of a city, where we have to understand that buildings contribute big time. Municipalities should have a leading role – not only for public spaces, but also for the private buildings. In Rotterdam, for example, the municipality is working on multifunctional green roofs – a synergistic cooperation between public and private interests to create roofs that address four key sustainable issues: biodiversity and heat stress (Green), water retention (Blue), energy production (Red), and multifunctional use (Purple).

The Next Economy

Rotterdam has always been a frontrunner in architecture and innovation. According to Metropolis Magazine, it’s one of the world’s top cities to live, work and play. The Dutch Windwheel is a building that falls in the category of ‘The Next Economy’. The idea started in a bar where Duzan and Johan Mellegers, the former director of Kinderdijk,  talked about creating a new sustainable tourist attraction for the city of Rotterdam. They discussed the concept of a combination of the London Eye and the windmill of the future.

The final building is an innovation-driven design. Innovation actually started to shape the design of the building. The Windwheel is optimized to harvest (and store) wind and sun. It’s a vertical solar park and a wind machine, hence the shape. It also has a circular water system: it captures rainwater and uses it to water plants and flush the toilets. It extracts heat, nutrients and phosphates from sewage water. On every level we integrate green in the smart skin – a passive energy zone – allowing us to ventilate the building naturally.

In the design process we came up with ideas for which there was no technology available yet. So, after forming the Windwheel Corporation (DoepelStrijkers, Meysters and Bloc), we set up our own innovation platform and built a mock-up of a Windwheel hotel room in collaboration with 33 suppliers.

Building as a Service

We also started to seriously think about circularity. How could we turn this into a modular building, making it repeatable in other cities and accommodate to different needs? Most of the spaces in the building needed to become modular and adaptable. In the end, it all came down to radically rethinking the way we make buildings. One has to look at buildings as a collection of services. This model is called: Building as a Service. Every layer is separated and broken down as a component. Each layer can be viewed as a collection of services. For example, we have performance contracts with a solar panel supplier for our façade. The supplier remains owner of the panels and guarantees a certain energy performance. Interesting to work together like that. Also, another supplier delivers the flexible floors that enables us to move any program (e.g. toilet) anywhere you want. This makes it adaptable, which is a prerequisite for a circular economy. Together, with the flexible structure, the building is fully modular and adaptable. Apartments can turn into a hotel, and so on. This led to a newspaper article with a title: In the future we will live in a service contract.

The Next Economy needs the Next Architecture. I call it: Climate Architecture. We should start designing buildings that are shaped by the climate.
Duzan Doepel

Bringing Innovative Companies Together

Duzan’s team, as well as like-minded companies such as Wavin, are tackling the same challenges: climate resilience, sustainability, urbanization and energy. It benefits all parties to join forces to mitigate these challenges. Companies in The Netherlands are extremely good at working together, Duzan explains. And circularity is a topic were companies can thrive and prosper. An innovation platform like the Dutch Windwheel Innovation Foundation is quite unique in the business. The initiatives mostly come from Brussels (EU), like the programs to stimulate the energy transition, circular economy and biobased building – like, for example, the Horizon 2020. But commercial businesses know their trade extremely well; they are innovative and solution-oriented. This is ideal for architects to work with.

Duzan sees his firm as an initiator/instigator. Architects nowadays have less control over the building process than fifteen to twenty years ago. There are lots of managers in the process, making it frustrating to secure quality. Setting up our own projects is a way to bypass this.

One of Duzan’s projects was the design and build of the Watershed (with 2400 pipes of recycled PVC, this is at the core of Wavin’s business), a playful and interactive way of showing something that is actually a big societal problem. It is an object to show how cities are dealing with the effects of climate change. By harvesting rainwater, buffering it and releasing it slowly after the storm, the pressure on the sewage system is reduced, resulting in less overflow of sewage into the clean water systems. That’s also the way Wavin and its customers can and should show their solutions: show it, change and use the public space and don’t hide it below ground or behind walls. For example, if you need more drainage capacity to deal with increased rainwater, you can change public space by building a water square (like the one in Rotterdam), rather than increasing the dimension of the sewer pipes below ground. Doing so also delivers a quality boost to the city.

Building – an Icon of Innovation

The bottom line is that better building performance cannot happen without innovation. Innovative ideas. Innovative people: architects, partners, alliances and stakeholders.  When forward-thinking architectural firms and companies, like DoepelStrijkers and Wavin, collaborate for a better, more sustainable future in building design... good things happen. Cities and communities benefit with buildings that are future-fit and enhance their daily lives.

If you think of something crazy, it always has an opportunity if you give it space (space to breath). Just be brave and do it. Together, we can make an impact and we can innovate to make the world a better place.
Duzan Doepel