During the Geospatial World Conference event last April in Zaandam, The Netherlands, German architect and entrepreneur Thomas Rau discussed how to eliminate waste in real estate. By providing materials in the built environment with an identity, waste can be eliminated. This is realized through a digital platform stores relevant real estate data, along with a “materials passport” with all present materials inside a new building.
Rau’s ideas do not just apply to real estate, but every consumer product imaginable. Rau sees a product as a warehouse of resources. Rather than creating more waste, he proposes to design products in such a way that they can be disassembled and its resources can be extracted. The key point is that resources shouldn’t be wasted but dismantled right away so they can be recycled: the endpoint for resources is in many instances waste incineration, which Rau calls “resource crematoria”, where they are lost forever. Instead of losing finite resources, a solution should be found for using those resources as efficient and long as possible.
A civil registry for buildings and their materials
To make people more aware of the resources that are contained in a product, he developed a materials passport, a digital document that states what materials it contains and in what quantities so that they cannot be lost. The same concept has been applied to real estate, resulting in the launch of a “civil registry for buildings and their materials”, called Madaster in Q3 of 2017. Rau is one of the founding members of Madaster; its name was chosen because of its resemblance with the cadaster organization, that registers land ownership.
Today, Madaster is a multi-language digital platform that is meant for both private individuals and companies. The system registers, organizes, stores and unlocks real estate data, such as drawings, energy certificates, maintenance contracts and the like. These documents can be exchanged between different stakeholders, such as insurance companies, construction and maintenance companies and tenants. Privacy of all this information is ensured: the building owner decides who has access to the information maintained in the platform.
Taking better design and construction decisions
In addition to these real estate documents, Madaster generates a materials passport with information about the building materials, as well the quantities that are being used, where exactly in the building they can be found and what are the financial and circular values of all materials. This information is meant to stimulate the reuse of materials and create less waste. The passport can also help the value assessment of a building and take better decisions during construction and designing a building: for example, by designing a building that is meant to be fully de-mountable fifteen years from now.
Madaster is an initiative from the Madaster Foundation, a Dutch nonprofit organization that is led by a Board of Directors. It is now supported by various parties from the construction industry, the public and financial sector. There are international ambitions, as well as extending the platform with cable, pipeline, floodgate and overpass data. In 2016, 340,000 square meters were registered on the platform. Madaster differentiates between various user types, who pay a fee that is based on the amount of square meters for the building that is being registered.
The ideas put forward in Rau’s presentation weren’t exactly new: his materials passport was developed in 2011 and applied for the first time in 2013. The Madaster platform was established in 2017. In a short discussion with the audience, Rau admitted that only new buildings can benefit from the Madaster platform as information about building materials from existing building do not always exist. He also admitted that not everyone is happy with his ideas: demolition companies, in particular, are not waiting for buildings to be disassembled and have 100% of all building materials reused in the future.
In the end, what makes Madaster so interesting is that it´s an initiative that does not originate from the Dutch government, although that same government has developed many initiatives to register data about the built environment, from data exchange standards to online databases. Madaster’s success rate will therefore depend entirely on its partners and users, rather than underlying legislation.