While designing a building can be a very creative process, it is rarely ever done completely from scratch. Architects and designers tend to avoid "reinventing the wheel" over and over again if not absolutely necessary. Instead, they rely on previous design choices and established guidelines to build upon.

Bigger firms and organisations accumulate, over time, such a body of knowledge. Building elements, as we call these units, are simply this: predefined units — typically refined over multiple projects — consisting of specific materials combinations. The units have a fixed application, such as external walls or decks. This allows for a much more efficient design process, where architects don’t have to linger on minutiae and can instead focus on the bigger picture.

Now, though, the industry is facing the urgent need of shifting towards different material and design choices to minimise its environmental footprint. The risk of using similar tools to speed up the design process is that they can lead to designers re-using the same elements over and over. Per se, this wouldn’t be an absolute negative, but if the building elements aren’t maintained and updated often with newer, lower-carbon materials, this process could end up reinforcing negative design habits.

The shift in design goals towards more environmentally conscious designs, demands as a consequence, a constant rethink of such elements to keep embodied carbon and other indicators in check while not sacrificing on fire resistance, structural integrity, and so on. 

With this in mind, we set out to provide architects with pre-made building elements that might fit these criteria better. Partnering with some of Denmark’s most prominent industry experts, we have specified 19 building elements, complete with as much information as possible. Total carbon emissions for the A1-A3 stages, as well as fire performance and the EPDs of all the materials present.

Bio-based materials, such as blown-in wood fibres, straw, and grass are an integral part of many building elements. For example, DBI has provided this configuration for an exterior wall, which, featuring a wood-fibre panel, boasts an excellent fire resistance at REI90. 

A combination of clay and seaweed wool is instead the key for this building element, once again courtesy of DBI.

Havnens Hænder has instead resorted to a clever use of cork, lime-based plaster and straw panels to put together an external wall assembly, complete with insulation.

Load-bearing elements, such as this all-wooden frame from NREP are also relying heavily on bio-based materials, both as structural entities as well as for insulation.

As highlighted, these building elements are extremely important, especially at such a crucial turning point for our industry. Companies that are more experienced in specifying and using low-carbon materials in designs hold the keys to a knowledge that can fundamentally benefit everyone in the long run. By sharing their insights with other architects, engineers, and contractors, they send a clear message: that collaboration is more important than a small market edge.

We at revalu try to make it as easy as possible for built environment professionals to use this body of knowledge and to design including innovative, bio-based solutions right from the get-go. 

In the spirit of knowledge sharing, we are interested in what you have to say. Do you or your organisation have such building elements in a library or database? If you’re interested in publishing your building element on our platform, send us an email at hello@revalu.io