6th LafargeHolcim Forum focuses on “Re-materializing Construction”

Material change towards sustainable construction


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

More than 1,200 people attended the opening session of the Forum on the campus of AUC. 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-materialize” 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).

Four concurrent workshops with contributions by 50 experts from all continents and moderated by members of the Academic Committee of the Foundation 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 (stocks, flows, and their dynamics); From manual to digital and vice versa (digitalization, labor, and construction); and Catch 22 (Material needs versus material impact). Full-day excursions connected to the theme of “Re-materializing Construction” visited sites throughout Cairo and provided a local contextualization of 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. He 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 and truly living up to his dictum that “being less bad is simply not good enough.” The Award was presented by Jan Jenisch, CEO of LafargeHolcim.

Rt Hon Simon Upton, Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment (New Zealand), summarized 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-materialize our economy?” he asked.

Embedding sustainability even before the first sketch
Lord Norman Foster,
Chairman & Founder of Foster + Partners (United Kingdom), 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. He 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 & Brain Injuries, Switzerland, and the new University Children’s Hospital Zurich, Switzerland 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,” she said.

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

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 & Informal Settlements (Egypt), provided an overview of the detailed mapping of Cairo’s informal waste sector and asserted 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 & Urban Design at New York University (USA), 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’s the social side that’s equally important,” he said.

Next generation share visions of sustainable construction
The Forum also brought together students of leading technical universities from around the world associated with the LafargeHolcim 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 (IBERO) 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”.

Academic publication inspired by Forum
Ruby Press Berlin will release The Material Book in late-2019, a publication inspired by the Forum. The publication will evaluate current architectural practices and models, and also introduce materials and methods to maximize the environmental, social, and economic performance of the built environment in the context of “Re-materializing Construction”.

Detailed information about the Forum at www.lafargeholcim-forum.org including high-resolution images for download is available at www.lafargeholcim-forum.org/images



Committed to sustainable construction since 2003

The LafargeHolcim Forum is a tri-annual series of conferences on the topic of sustainable construction conducted by the Foundation. The multi-day Forum, including workshops and site visits, is an academic platform for architects, engineers, construction professionals and specialists of all generations to exchange information on creating a more sustainable built environment and thus advancing sustainable development.

The LafargeHolcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction was created in 2003 as an initiative of LafargeHolcim to raise awareness of the important role that architecture, engineering, urban planning and the building industry have in achieving a more sustainable future. LafargeHolcim is the leading global building materials and solutions company.

The “flagship” of the Foundation is the LafargeHolcim Awards for Sustainable Construction. It is the world’s most significant competition for sustainable design. Each competition cycle spans three years, from announcement to completion: the next competition will be open for entries from June 4, 2019 until February 25, 2020.