IMAGE CREDITS : Elements Reuse©
At Driven we are currently incubating 3 different projects implementing circular economy principles in challenging alternative propositions using advanced technology. We asked Guillaume Jami and Thibault Lénart some questions about their incubated project Elements Reuse:
Elements Reuse cofounders are graduated architects, fostering an innovative and entrepreneurial vision of the construction industry. As such, Elements Reuse is enriched by Guillaume Jami’s research at ETH Zurich, whiles Thibault Lenart is establishing the company in Paris as well as teaching computational design in Paris-Malaquais school of architecture. Throughout their academic and professional experience, digital technologies have become important assets in rethinking social, environmental and economic complexities. Both cofounders had the opportunity through a computational design oriented curriculum to learn new tools and strategies to rethink the very fundamental approaches to architecture and construction. This interest in technologies led them to study and work in leading institutions across the globe in Argentina, Chile, Switzerland, Spain among others. Those influences are now funneled to create Elements, a company aiming to reveal opportunities for the reduction of materials extraction and waste production in the building industry.
What are the problems you are challenging?
Elements main challenge is to re-evaluate materials and building components life-cycle. Currently, new buildings life expectancy is 30 years, when building components are tested for an average life expectancy of 76 years. Simultaneously, the building industry accounts for 40% of waste production and 50% of raw material extraction. Element’s objective is to use data in order to trigger the reuse of suitable building components. We are convinced that the appropriation of RFID technology, in use since the 1950’s, can incentivize the emergence of circular models in the building industry. Driven by the prospect of sustainable construction methods, Elements works on logistic methods to anticipate buildings deconstruction and materials reuse.
The services we develop at Elements are based on the assumption that characterisation data are imperative for the conception and erection of buildings. As such, our proposition is to preserve those required data throughout the components life-cycle, to enable their re-use in new buildings. Elements Reuse tracks materials and building components with resilient and affordable RFID battery-less technology. The tags are placed directly on the materials to be easily accessible, and embed precisely selected information that will allow the reuse of the components. Data can be incremented throughout the different construction and deconstruction phases.
The RFID tags further serve as on-site digital interfaces to communicate data to Element’s platform, where workers, architects, engineers, decommissioners and contractors can follow the evolution of their material stocks with custom analysis and information according to their work environment. The digital environment created through Element’s methods is used to optimise construction procedures, site inspection, and second-hand design, creating value and economic incentive for the transition towards circular construction models.
Element’s method has been developed by observing the current limitations of existing approaches. As such, it focuses on two main criteria : information resilience and low operating costs. The three existing approaches to enable the reuse of construction components are destructive analysis, non-destructive analysis and digital data storage.
Destructive analysis methods are used to recover characterisation information for the materials and rely on sample testing in laboratories. The opportunities for this method are limited by the cost and time needed for these procedures, which can be avoided by storing the data.
Non-destructive analysis methods, mainly Radar, Lidar and photogrammetric scanning, are technologies being developed by multiple start-ups showing progress around the world. Those methods strongly rely on technological innovations, requiring qualified operators. They definitely are a technological breakthrough but do not represent an optimal solution for the anticipation of deconstruction processes in new building construction.
At Elements, we consider data storage as the most promising and cost-effective methods. Their main limitation, demonstrated by current practices, is the resilience of the data that have to be accessible 30 years after the construction process. Current practices include the preservation of the original BIM models. Unfortunately, among the issues of data selection and materials matching, the disconnection between digital models and physical materials doesn’t guarantee an efficient access to the data at the end of the life-cycle.
The great strength of Elements Reuse system is to use battery-less robust technology, which, independently from site conditions or internet network, will provide a large range of embedded offline information to never delay any site operations.
An innovative business model?
Elements Reuse model is based on a transversal network, gathering multiple actors of the building industry around a simple and robust system generating multiple services. This model is circular by nature, allowing an adequate circulation of data to trigger the extension of building components life-cycle. Elements, while working on multiple straightforward services, emerges from an architectural research background, giving it both the experience and the dynamism to rapidly adapt to its client’s needs. Emerging from a computational design background, Elements is a company looking ahead of its time. The RFID technology we use is an inexpensive entry gate towards the digitalisation of the construction industry, including the implementation of automated machines on site, such as drones, robotic arms, excavators.
On circular economy.
Elements’ posture towards circular economy is to consider data as a resource that should be preserved. For Tom Stoner, Shannon’s theory demonstrates that information is one of the main components of the physical world, just as matter or energy. The information theoretically associated with the construction components is the result of the sum of the modifications undergone by the material in its cycle, each modification leading to a formal complexification of the object. The development of digital technologies shines a new light on this theory by directly relying on the data associated with objects in the physical world. At elements, we exploit this circular perspective, through the preservation of data, to maintain physical products in the economy.
DRIVEN is operated by VOLUMES Creative and Productive Hub in Paris.
Volumes is partner of EU Horizon 2020 Reflow Project, which is focusing on co-creating circular resource flows in cities.
Within this context, Volumes is selecting specific ideas and initiatives that can respond to the Reflow challenges. During the current call for projects, the board of experts at Volumes will select 2 special projects which will have free of charge access to a specific track of the DRIVEN incubation program called DRIVEN x REFLOW.