Endless chains of materials, buildings that are repeatedly dismantled and reassembled. There is hardly any waste left. Is this the future of construction? At least that is Thomas Rau’s vision. “It can become a reality more quickly than I myself originally believed”, explains the architect. The German, who lives in the Netherlands, founded Madaster four years ago. An online database supposed to provide information just as relevant to the construction of buildings as land registers for real estate.
While the land is a matter of location, size, and owner, Madaster is believed to save tons of steel and lumber used in buildings. Where does the material come from, what is it worth and to what extent it can be recycled. Clean accounting as a prerequisite for sustainable construction. The objective: the circular economy, or, as this 61-year-old man puts it: “System change, far from linear thinking”.
Experts like Lamia Messari-Becker, professor of building technology and building physics at the University of Siegen, have been calling for better documentation of raw materials in buildings for some time. Just as many residential buildings today have an energy certificate, it makes sense to have a resource pass that shows what’s in the building and what emissions are caused by it. “The most important thing is to make things visible and to raise awareness”, says Messari-Becker, “it is not a question of prohibitions or renunciation”. Madaster’s initiator Rau sees it the same way. “We’re not saying it’s a good or a bad material. The customer has to decide for themselves.”
A subsidiary is also about to start up in Germany
So far, around ten million square meters have been saved on Madaster, especially in the Netherlands, explains the architect. So a few thousand buildings, but not bad to start with. The project has fans like Dutch developer BDP, who announced in 2020 that they would register a thousand new apartments on the platform.
Rau is now expanding the model internationally: by the end of the year there should be seven national companies, for example in Norway, Switzerland and Belgium. Commissioned and controlled by a non-profit foundation, whose supervisory board is such experts as Marzia Traverso, who heads the Institute for Sustainability in Construction at RWTH University Aachen. The European Union has supported the development of the database with around € 2.5 million from the Horizon research program.
A subsidiary is also about to start up in Germany. Managing Director Patrick Bergmann, who previously worked in property valuation at the management consulting firm Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC), wants to integrate at least 10,000 buildings on the platform within three years: “The database must be wide. Only then can reliable statements be made not only for individual objects, but also for types of buildings.
This is important because information about new buildings can be entered digitally into the database relatively easily. In the case of older buildings, however, what has been built over the years and decades is often poorly documented. Material analyzes take time and are not always possible. As an alternative, estimates are used.
The material pass must also indicate the value of the raw materials
In practice, it looks like this: Planners or builders record construction data on the platform: what material has been installed and how much, and different alloys can also play a role. Product manufacturers complete the information, for example on windows or bathrooms. The platform uses it to generate a material pass, which also indicates the value of the raw materials. Only the owner has a preview of the building profile, but the product and metadata should also be accessible to others.
Madaster is not the only company dedicated to the subject. Two years ago, the online component exchange Restado founded the start-up Concular, which offers software for recording inventory and creating hardware passports. Madaster notably differs in its claim to generate and update data for the entire industry.
Bergmann has won over 20 particularly committed supporters to date. They are called “Kennedys”, an allusion to the American president and his lunar program. The supporters are sponsoring the construction of the German version of the Madaster each with a five-figure amount and are working on its development. Consulting firm Drees & Sommer, for example, construction company Kondor Wessels, project developer Interboden, but also asset manager Commerz Real and the largest German real estate group Vonovia. You see yourself as a vanguard, as a community of like-minded people. This promises at least an image boost.
Kaldewei, for example, a manufacturer of bathroom products, wants to define all product data on Madaster, “up to the threshold of trade secrets,” as CEO Roberto Martinez promises. This makes it easier to recycle bathtubs and showers, which at Kaldewei are traditionally made of steel and enamel. “It fits with our business philosophy,” says Martinez.
The CO₂ balance could soon be more important than the question of the amount of energy consumed by a house
The most important allies, however, are the investors who buy and hold real estate portfolios. “The issue of the circular economy is becoming more and more important for us. Large investors are increasingly asking themselves what is the ecological footprint of their portfolio, ”explains Sarah Krüger, Sustainability Manager at Commerz Real. “Madaster anticipates the developments the industry can expect from the legislature.”
Krüger is thinking, for example, of EU sustainability regulations, which may soon focus more on material consumption and climate-damaging emissions over the entire real estate lifecycle. In the future, the German Building Energy Act (GEG) will also be based less on the amount of energy consumed by a building and more on its overall CO₂ balance, including the production and recycling of building materials. construction.
Even if it is a dream of the future, a physical passport can already have certain advantages today, such as increasing the selling price of a property because it secures the buyer. It is also easier to negotiate with the demolition contractor if it is clear what the values of the building are. Rau reports an assembly hall at Schiphol Airport in the Netherlands, the demolition of which, according to the material analysis, brought back to the owner some of the product; in the case of a hotel, the dismantling costs could have been reduced by several hundred thousand euros.
But demolition contractors are also hoping for benefits from transparency: the German Demolition Association considers Madaster “useful for extracting recyclable building materials”. Above all, an “anticipated release of pollutants” interests the industry.
There is another advantage for real estate companies. Today, buildings are generally fully depreciated over a period of 25 to 50 years. However, if they are considered in the future as a raw materials store, it may be worth accounting for the income from the sale of materials and recycling – then there would be no further depreciation at zero. This would improve the profitability of many businesses all at once.
What may seem like a trick to laymen is even advised from the point of view of experts: “If values are important, they must be taken into account within the framework of correct accounting”, explains Klaus-Peter Naumann, spokesperson . for the Board of Directors of the Düsseldorf Institute of Auditors. “Counting yourself worse is not an option.” In the shipping industry, for example, containers are not depreciated to zero because of their high material value, but only depreciated to the extent of their scrap product. Why wouldn’t this be possible with steel beams and wooden structures?
Buildings that are designed and built on the circular principle from the start, with materials and components that are pollutant-free and easy to dismantle, stand to benefit the most. Rau finds it fair: “Things change the fastest when there is a financial incentive.