Breaking the mold
Designed using sustainable materials, with a contribution from BASF, the Lofthome is affordable, beautiful – and as Lofthome architect Robert van Kats explains, it is proving very popular.
If sustainable construction demands a new way of thinking and working, the creators of Lofthome share BASF’s pioneering spirit. A Lofthome is a residential home that is both affordable and energy efficient. Available in the Netherlands and, most recently, Belgium, each Lofthome is built to order, with scope for the client to choose their own layout. The team behind Lofthome has broken the mold – both in terms of its design and its conception. “In the Netherlands, the traditional process is that the architect comes up with the design, you find a contractor, and the house gets built,” explains Robert van Kats, Architect Director of Blok Kats van Veen architects, and co-creator of Lofthome. “But Lofthome is the result of a collaboration of the architects, a city marketer and the contractor.”
This collaborative approach has allowed Lofthome’s creators to make the entire construction process more efficient. The structure of the home is engineered off-site, reducing the actual construction phase to just two months. “That in itself is a form of sustainability as the process is so short,” says van Kats. The Lofthome team also worked together to identify the most sustainable materials. Among these was BASF’s Elastopir®, a polyurethane foam used in the sandwich panels that make up the facade of each Lofthome. BASF developed this durable, fire-resistant foam to offer the highest level of insulation possible – a major factor in developing low-energy buildings. In the case of Lofthome, the insulation level is almost double that required by current Dutch building regulations. The design also includes heat recovery ventilation units, solar water heaters, triple glass walls, and other sustainable features – and every material used can be recycled.
“For us, sustainability is an integral aspect of design. There’s no compromising.”
Robert van Kats, Architect Director of Blok Kats van Veen architects.
The legislation challenge
In other words, the Lofthome’s sustainability credentials are impeccable – so impeccable in fact, that in some instances they actually go beyond what current legislation will allow. “The biggest challenge is actually the regulations,” explains van Kats. “Most of the time we want to go further in sustainability than we are allowed to build.” He cites one example of a town in the Netherlands where residents of self-sufficient homes are still required to pay energy companies for an energy supply they do not need.
It is an astonishing thought – that in some cases, regulation is actually limiting innovation in sustainable construction, but van Kats thinks it will change soon. In the meantime, Lofthome is proving to have mass-market appeal – something its creators never expected. “When we launched it three years ago, we thought it was a niche market,” says van Kats, “but it’s much wider than we thought.”
Looking at the Lofthome design today, it’s easy to see its appeal. Not only is it sustainable with an affordable price tag, it also looks great. “In the Netherlands there’s so much lookalike housing with traditional brick work,” says van Kats. Our clients often say “finally there is something else.” The Lofthome’s steel construction and industrial design set it apart – and because clients can choose their own layout, each Lofthome has the potential to be unique.
A marriage of sustainability and design
This marriage of sustainability with design aesthetic is important for van Kats and his team: “For us, sustainability is an integral aspect of design. There’s no compromising.”
It is an approach that many argue needs to be more widely adopted, and van Kats agrees: “I believe our professional field can contribute to a sustainable future in terms of constructing cities – but we need a lot of steps. If you arrange a good team of people [that includes] organizations and government, which really sets out a vision and a goal to have a low-energy-use city, you’ve already achieved a lot. Then you can start working on the future.”