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LafargeHolcim makes material change towards sustainable construction

Published by , Editorial Assistant
World Cement,

More than 350 leading minds from architecture, engineering, planning, and the building and construction industry have met to accelerate their contributions to creating a more sustainable built environment. The LafargeHolcim Forum, named ‘re-materialising construction’, was hosted by The American University in Cairo (AUC), with delegates from 55 countries.

The opening session of the Forum was held on the AUC campus and was attended by more than 1200 people. Delegates were welcomed by Khaled Abbas, Deputy Minister of Housing (Egypt) and Roland Köhler, Chairman of the LafargeHolcim Foundation (Switzerland). The keynote addresses, workshops, and excursions of the Forum focused on strategies to ‘re-materialise’ construction by reducing consumption throughout the material cycle, from extraction to processing, transport, installation, maintenance, and removal – contributing to a leaner industry. The speakers at the opening session were challenged in a panel led by Foundation Board members Maria Atkinson AM, Founding CEO of the Green Building Council of Australia, and Alejandro Aravena, Partner Architect and Executive Director of Elemental (Chile).

With contributions by 50 experts from all continents and moderated by members of the Academic Committee of the Foundation, four concurrent workshops explored topics related to materials in the construction industry. The workshops investigated ‘changing paradigms’ (materials for a world not yet built), ‘shifting the flows, pulling the strings’(stock, flows, and their dynamics), ‘From manual to digital and vice versa’ (digitalisation, labour, and construction), and ‘Catch 22’ (material needs vs material impact). Full day excursions, connected to the theme of ‘re-materialising construction’, visited sites throughout Cairo and provided a local contextualisation to the global discussions. The excursions were curated by AUC and examined archeological heritage, water challenges, new vernacular, and desert cities.

“Being less bad is simply not good enough”

Michael Braungart (Germany), Cradle-to-Cradle Chair, Erasmus University Rotterdam, provided a note of optimism based on his seminal ‘Cradle-to-Cradle’ concept. Braungart asserted the need to depart radically from the approach to design that had created the problem. “If you just perfect the wrong design, you end up with a design that is perfectly wrong,” he said.

He was presented with the LafargeHolcim Foundation Catalyst Award – a recognition for experts who have made a substantial, outstanding, and lasting contribution to the advancement of sustainable development. The award was presented by Jan Jenisch, CEO of LafargeHolcim.

Rt Hon. Simon Upton, Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment (New Zealand), summarised the Forum by reflecting on the challenges ahead. He noted the difficulties in both explaining complicated problems in simple ways, and for global externalities to be made visible at the local level. “With such little time, how do we tackle a problem of such complexity and such scale – and thereby intelligently re-materialise our economy?” he asked.

Embedding sustainability

Lord Norman Foster, Chairman and Founder of Foster + Partners (UK), showed the interconnection between design and materials selection using examples of his work, including the large-scale Apple Park corporate headquarters of Apple in California, and Bloomberg’s European headquarters in London. Foster also referred to small-scale work, including Mia Engiadina Mountain Hub in Switzerland that addresses youth migration by attracting tech-industries from cities. “Sustainability is inseparable from energy and inseparable from the process of recycling,” he said.

Christine Binswanger, Senior Partner at Herzog & de Meuron (Switzerland) explored ways of ensuring buildings with higher sustainability attain greater public support. Projects such as REHAB Basel Centre for Spinal Cord and Brain Injuries and the University Children’s Hospital Zurich illustrated the ‘design for adaptability’ approach that increases the proportion of materials used today that can be modified or repurposed in the future. “Visual impact is an important element, but social impact is intrinsic to sustainable design.”

Anne Lacaton, Principal of Lacaton and Vassal Architectes (France), showed how ‘never demolish, always transform’ is at the heart of the design process of her studio, including the renovation programme of more than 500 dwellings in the Cité du Grand Parc in Bordeaux, which was originally constructed in the early 1960s. The renovation strategy not only extends the usable lifespan of the building, but it also delivers multi-layered social, aesthetic, and economic benefits. “The existing building is tomorrow’s new building material”.

Francis Kéré, Principal of Kéré Architecture (Burkina Faso/Germany), reflected on the theme of ‘embed know-how’, including examples from building a school in Gando, the village of his childhood in Burkina Faso. He advocated education, learning from history, and making information more accessible as key components of ensuring success. “We need to deconstruct preconceived ideas, embracing innovation and locally-sourced materials,” he said.

Laila Iskandar, former Minister of Urban Renewal and Informal Settlements (Egypt), provided an overview of the detailed mapping of Cairo’s informal waste sector and asserted that the same principles could be effectively applied to construction waste because the sources can be identified. She examined how waste material streams can be leveraged, although re-thinking was urgently required. “Valuable resources in waste streams are being lost because current systems are designed to eliminate the waste rather than harvest the materials,” she said.

Mitchell Joachim, Professor of Architecture and Urban Design in New York University, presented a range of projects that pursue net neutrality addressing waste in cities, food, water, energy, air quality, equity, and mobility. He illustrated the importance of enabling the design process to be blue-sky thinking, creating awareness of non-sustainable practices and visions of building materials, including a high-rise building with concrete wall panels that act as hubs for the endangered Monarch butterfly. “’Design against extinction’ or socio-ecological design is our mantra. Blending engineering, science, and design can produce sustainable solutions, but it is the social side that is equally important,” he said.

Next generation

The Forum also brought together students of leading technical universities from around the world, associated with the LarfargeHolcim Foundation. They showcased their innovative concepts living up to the ‘target issues’ for sustainable construction in a poster exhibition. The participants of the Forum were invited to vote for the projects that inspired them most.

Prizes were presented to students of Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City for ‘M-E-X – Mercado Embarcadero Xochimilco’ and ‘Living Mexico City’, as well as to a team from L’Ecole Supérieure d’Architecture in Morocco for ‘Insertion of a water treatment cycle’. Two projects were highly commended: the work of a post-graduate student from India for ‘community farm produced processing and storage’ and a team from the National University of Singapore for ‘feeding the city’.

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LafargeHolcim news Cement news 2018