Designers are on the side of the solution | Mariette Overschie

Designers are conceptual thinkers. Looking for added value is what makes us enthusiastic. We start by focusing on a strong concept and then look for ways to make it even better. One of the most exciting design tasks, as well as a very challenging one, is coming up with ways to respond to shifting realities.

In recent years, the global issues of social inequity, resource depletion and the climate emergency have become central to the design discourse. How can we sufficiently address these ever-changing issues and develop ways to recalibrate our being in relation to our planet? How can we adopt a holistic approach to address the change required across the board?

Large and dominant players in the construction world control the choices in building processes. It has often been said that this is one of the most important reasons why new innovations cannot compete with traditional ways of building. And, although the term sustainability has become widespread, unfortunately, our society has so far been unable to move past the linear ‘take-make-waste’ economic model responsible for many of our current shortcomings. Focus should be on the circular economy, which draws its strength from a systems thinking perspective, its key ambition to decouple growth from the use of materials. We all need to adopt a long-term view!

Designers can make a difference by offering alternatives. We are used to moving our designerly thinking into new or underexplored pathways. What does a healthy, safe and social living environment look like? What if we were to start designing buildings and products that can be made to be made again? What if we could do that using renewable energy resources?

Designers and the market increasingly work together and team up with users, intermediary organisations, technology institutions and legislators, to learn from each other by giving crucial feedback throughout the development process and make sure that more golden plans and ideas make it past the drawing board!

Here are some of the many inspiring examples of the work by graduates of our faculty where responsible designs, brave investments of money and time, and a warm reception have come together.

On the way to climate-neutral horticulture

Liesanne Wieleman (2019 graduate) is entrepreneur and co-founder of the start-up Thermeleon. The team works on a next-generation screen system with integrated thermal energy storage for horticulture. During the day the system will absorb the excess energy, which is then released at night, when there is a high energy demand. As a result, both the gas costs and CO2 emissions are reduced significantly. The product is in the patent phase.

Built and rebuilt in an infinite number of ways

Founder of TheNewMakers (TNM) Pieter Stoutjesdijk (2013 graduate) integrates design, engineering and production in innovative and sustainable products. TNM searches for the optimal balance between modularity and flexibility, using natural materials. Smart connections allow for any of their construction systems to be disassembled time and time again and rebuilt in an infinite number of ways.

Parking as part of a local smart grid

Architect Amar Sjauw En Wa - Windhorst (2010 graduate) developed a PV louvre roof and charging plaza for parking spaces above a large parking lot in the EVA-Lanxmeer eco-district in Culemborg. The electric cars under the solar park can not only be charged directly with solar energy from the charging plaza, it can also be used to store energy during the day. This is one of the first steps towards a local smart grid in the district.


This article is written by Mariette Overschie (TU Delft, Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment, Environmental Technology & Design), with special thanks to Olga Ioannou.

 Thermeleon team photo by Silke Broekhuis; EVA-Lanxmeer photos by Amar Sjauw En Wa; TNM images are used with permission.