Architecture lecturer Jeroen van Mechelen: 'Bio-based construction is the future!'

Photo: Tessa Posthuma de Boer

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Jeroen van Mechelen (1971) is an architect, circular & bio-based designer and lecturer at the Academy of Architecture. In addition, he is regularly asked to give lectures. He started early with entrepreneurship. During his study at the Academy of Architecture, he founded the design firm Studio JVMº. We interviewed him about his work and his teaching.

What are you currently working on?
“With Studio JVMº, I am doing small-scale interior and architecture assignments, sometimes with an urban vision or plan, with more of a sustainable angle than in the past. There’s a lot wrong in the building sector, which made me reflect on my role as architect. What would I like to contribute towards? I’ve started seeing my profession as a means and not a goal. That is somewhat anomalous in the sector. I have decided only to work on sustainable projects. That is why I started a second initiative: JUST in CASE. This is a 100% reusable building system for all kinds of buildings. You can quickly build an entire shell with one wooden case. This product is one of the most optimal solutions for eco-friendly construction. With JUST in CASE, I work together with Remco Wieringa, my partner and the technical man in the company.”

How do you protect your invention?
“JUST in CASE is about social interaction and being able to do things yourself. In order to ensure it is both accessible and protected, I had my idea registered with the European trademarks register the Benelux Office for Intellectual Property (BOIP). We drew up a design license. Anyone who wants to design something with the system receives a license for one project. There is also a production license, with which a party receives the digital drawings to make a particular number of elements under fairly strict conditions. They cannot send the drawings to other parties. There are considerable fines for doing so.”

Are you also responsible for production of the cases?
“Yes, we do that with a manufacturer in North Holland. I prefer to supply it myself. We also calculate some kind of royalties for each element. Those royalties are also charged on if someone else manufactures it.”  

Can you name an example of something that you built with JUST in CASE?
“We did a project for the housing association PreWonen. We built a temporary pavilion in their central lobby. That was subsequently dismantled and built again in a charity shop, where it became a coffee corner. We will soon be doing the same at a new location. What’s nice about this building system is that you only need a couple of professionals, in addition to a group of enthusiastic people. This is how we did it with a group of people eligible for a pension without experience of building, and a refugee who didn’t speak any Dutch. That went perfectly and it made everyone happy. The building is a means to create connection in your environment and community.”  

“We are also busy working with a software company in order to build a configurator so that people can click their house together themselves online, just like an IKEA kitchen. In order to facilitate the DIY process.”  

How are you involved at the Academy of Architecture?
“My heart lies with the Academy of Architecture. I think it’s an amazing study programme. The students are unbelievably motivated and I like the fact that it has become so international. I feel like a fish in water with regard to the bio-based and circular assignments that I teach. Themes include reuse, shareable use and shared social amenities.”

Can you explain what bio-based and circular design assignments are?
“Bio-based building has to do with organic materials that you can dispose of in nature, which they become part of once again without causing any problems, after their function in the building has come to an end. That is the most environmentally-friendly version and the best ecological cycle that you could wish for. Circular is the idea that you can reuse something without having to process it, or only a little bit.”

“When I first started teaching these subjects as a lecturer, that was not so popular. Now, I notice that these are precisely the themes which students are looking to learn more about. Other lecturers are also incorporating this into their teaching. It has become an inextricable part of the profession. In the meantime, you see that you can make beautiful and intelligent buildings in a bio-based way, which are healthier to live in.”

“I sometimes teach with Baukje Trenning. She is a specialist in the field of material properties. It often concerns natural materials, like straw or hempcrete. You can learn a lot about them before you start using them in your buildings. The students recently helped a bio-based building contractor build a house in Almere, which was largely made from hempcrete. They stamped lime and hemp together in order to build the walls of the house.”

Have you got a tip for beginning architects?
“I want to make people aware of the advantages of bio-based construction from a professional and technical viewpoint. I would advise students to be alert to the developments in the building sector and to look carefully at what suits them best. I see students who are working with beautiful, hip design firms, who are not busy at all with those themes of circularity, reuse and bio-based construction. But I think that’s where the future lies.”

Where do you see yourself going next?
“It would be nice if JUST in CASE continues going well. I would like to remain involved with the design strategy. However, I would also like to be able to free myself up in order to do more to promote biodiversity. I actually wanted to be a vet when I was younger.”  

► Jeroen van Mechelen, lecturer Master in Architecture, Academy of Architecture

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This interview is also part of a series of interviews with alumni at