Architecture of need: Interview with JDS Architects

Employing around 30 people in offices in Copenhagen and Brussels JDS Architects are on a mission to develop a new form of sustainable architecture that rethinks how building and public spaces impact the environment.

Julien De Smedt believes that society for way too long has pursued a narrow growth and greed path. “As architects we set the standards for how cities are developed, and we need to do more to minimize the way our work impacts society. Last year we published our Built / Unbuilt book that was a retrospective look at our finished as well as unfinished projects. In ten years time I don’t want to publish another book with the same type of projects. Instead of doing more of the same that we have done for the last decade, we decided to embark on a new journey towards a more sustainable architecture. Key to this approach is to shift focus from greed to need in the built environment.”

He believes that architects have to move on and pursue a new approach where sustainability is the baseline. “We must get beyond just tapping ourselves on the shoulders. As architects we must find new ways to design our cities, and at the same time we have to show our clients the possibilities and what actually is possible,” Julien De Smedt states.

From architecture of greed to architecture of need

A part of this is to rethink social interaction in the cities, and in this time and age the Corona lockdown will hopefully set new standards for the way we live. The pandemic has shown us that we can get by without having to travel as much. “Since we’re an international office, I usually travel a lot to present our projects to clients in other countries. During the lockdown we have been able to discuss our proposals without having to travel and hereby creating unnecessary CO2 emissions. This is just one lesson that we can learn from the current crisis, and I believe that this insight will change the way we work post-corona,” Julien De Smedt says, “In some ways the way we now work through this crisis is better. We realize that we have fucked up, and there are many breaking behaviors, that are worthwhile to pursue.”

One way to reach his goals is to reuse as much of the existing structures as possible and discover new ways to minimize our impact on the environment. “When we build to accommodate housing and other demands, we have to build only what is needed instead of just letting go. As architects we can make designs that use less building materials, develop new solutions for better indoor environments and create buildings and surrounding landscapes that are used in new ways to extend the use percentage of our designs. It’s a transition from an architecture of greed to an architecture of need.”

A generic box going Frankenstein

JDS Architects use ARCHICAD as their BIM platform, and one of the projects where ARCHICAD is employed is the Charleroi Congress Palace.

The Congress building is a good example of a project that incorporates JDSA’s new approach. Julien De Smedt is convinced that the office won the competition because of the critical stance towards what a congress center is supposed to be. Usually it's a box where the inside is only used sporadically, but JDS Architects idea was to design a building that allows people to use it all the time without even going inside, by extending the public spaces throughout the building.

“We always try to make public buildings really public, and this is an urban park in the very center of the city. I find it has become an interesting generic box going Frankenstein. It’s distorted in a way that makes it fully accessible. How much you bend the building volume actually determines how much you can use the building as a public space.”

ARCHICAD delivers visuals that live up to our standards

Julien De Smedt says that even though they use various software platforms he has a preference for ARCHICAD, since it’s closer to deliver the visuals he is aiming for, and allows him to work close together with his team.

JDS Architects employ a parametric approach “that links our ideas with the numbers. Any moment in a given phase involves a creative process, and it’s always possible to change something. With ARCHICAD we can test our ideas and hold them up against the building budget and an environmentally friendly use of resources. We use ARCHICAD to optimize everything we do, and it gives us a better understanding of the ratio between usable space versus gross space. This way it allows us to use less materials and hereby design sustainable buildings and urban environments,” Julien De Smedt explains.

ARCHICAD is very visual and easy to learn

Vincent Van Kerckhove is an architect and one of the most experienced BIM users at JDS Architects. He explains how the office has used – and perhaps misused – ARCHICAD to design the Charleroi Congress Palace. “We have used ARCHICAD from the building permit to detailing the congress building. AutoCAD drawings provided the basis for the ARCHICAD project, where little errors in AutoCAD where easily seen in the 3D model. It has been nice to switch software to delete these issues and create a clean 3D model. Admittedly this project has been a little bit difficult to model because it is not by any means a traditional building. Especially the complex exterior stairsways have been a bit of challenge to design, so we had to hack the software, using ARCHICAD in a completely different way than intended by the developers,” he explains, but at the same time adds that it has been a fun process.

With any building project, collaboration is key to success. Vincent Van Kerckhove explains how the congress palace until now has gone through two phases from a software point of view. “For the first phase we imported the engineers Revit models into ARCHICAD in order to check our own model. For the second phase engineers are working in 2D AutoCAD and we use DWG drawings to coordinate the project.”

Vincent Van Kerckhove has used ARCHICAD for 9 years. He says that it allows JDS ARCHITECTS to easily extract drawings that are loaded with details without having to draw them separately. “One of the advantages of ARCHICAD is that it’s very visual, and therefore easy to learn for new team members. ARCHICAD also gives us a better way to come up with solutions and handle errors. We use complex profiles to detail the 3D model to be able to make sections where and whenever we need to.” In this way JDS ARCHITECTSharvests one of the key benefits of a working with BIM which saves a lot of time on the project.

When JDS ARCHITECTS are engaged in several project phases where BIM is required, they have a number of experienced ARCHICAD users, that are able to shift between different projects according to the timeline. “When we’re facing deadlines it's easy to add more people to the project by using BIMcloud. At the same time, we have senior colleagues that are doing quality control on paper and the issues are afterwards worked into the BIM project later on.” So even in a highly digital BIM process, there will be specialists with a more traditional workflow that utilize their core competences.

Post-carbon architects

The future roadmap for Julien De Smedt is clear: “In the years to come we will continue to research further into new ways, where we as architects can reduce the impact on the environment by diminishing CO2 emissions. One way is by reusing as much as we can, another is that we optimize our projects, so we only use the exact amount of materials that are necessary. As post carbon architects our hope it to shift focus back to needs rather than greed”.

Author image

About Pawel Antoni Lange

Pawel Antoni Lange has worked with communication within the AEC industry for more than a decade. Pawel has a MA in Modern Culture and Dissemination of Culture from The University of Copenhagen as well as a B.Sc. from Copenhagen Business School.
  • Denmark