Making complex theory accessible

Cobouw column by Ingrid Bolier

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My brother-in-law is an inventor. He has a patent to his name, and he likes to teach others how he does his work. He also happens to be one of the most humble people I know. My own mission is to facilitate innovation for a sustainable built environment. My PhD research sometimes feels a bit like making complex theory accessible to the practical field. Likewise, it is equally important to reflect on the lessons we learn in practice.

So why should we invest in innovations for a sustainable built environment? The built environment is about physical objects – railways, waterways, national and local roads, bridges, locks, cycle paths, underground infrastructure, energy generation, public lighting, green spaces, housing and utility buildings. Several challenges facing society are affecting the built environment around us (PBL, 2021), for example the need for large-scale replacement and renovation, the acceleration of building production, and a more future-proof, sustainable built environment that is compatible with the bearing capacity of the living environment. We want to make sure that our built environment remains liveable despite the heatwaves, droughts and excessive rainfall that climate change is bringing. We want to restore biodiversity, use renewable energy, create a circular construction economy and reduce the use of primary raw materials.

We can address these challenges facing society through innovation and an approach that treats the built environment as an integrated system (WGBC, 2021). This begs the question: how can we actually innovate in the built environment? To find out, I will be talking to a lot of people in the coming period. And just like my brother-in-law, I will gain insights: you unpack something, find out what could be improved, experiment with solutions, and then implement the solution that adds the most value so that it becomes business as usual. It's child's play, really.

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