De Ceuvel: A cleantech playground
Closing loops at Amsterdam's circular living lab
De Ceuvel, a sustainable office park built on the site of a former shipyard in Amsterdam North, has become an internationally acclaimed circular economy case study. Home to 17 workspaces and a popular community cafe, the site was conceptualized as a ‘cleantech playground’ with numerous living examples of decentralized technologies and recycling of local resources.
- Client: Stichting DOEN, Waternet, City of Amsterdam, InnovatieNetwerk
- Partners: space&matter, DELVA Landscape Architects, Jeroen Apers, Wouter Valkenier, smeele architectuur, Woodies at Berlin
- Date: Opened June 2014
Turning a polluted city plot into a thriving, circular living lab
In an effort to transform the post-industrial neighbourhood of Buiksloterham into a mixed-use residential and commercial area, the City of Amsterdam awarded four plots of land to pioneering initiatives focusing on sustainability and circular urban development. In 2012, Metabolic and a group of organizations won a tender to turn the De Ceuvel site – formerly a derelict and polluted shipyard – into a ‘regenerative urban oasis’, with the aim of stimulating new ways of thinking about how we manage resources in our communities.
Together with our partners, the Metabolic team set out to find practical and creative solutions to build a circular urban hub with the following considerations in mind:
- The specific needs and interests of the local Buiksloterham community
- Heavily polluted land due to years of industrial activity
- Minimal budget for construction and operations
- City regulations regarding brownfield remediation, waste disposal, and water and electricity management
Designing the cleantech playground
Metabolic was asked to provide the sustainability masterplan for the De Ceuvel site, working with a large group of partners, entrepreneurs, and volunteers to transform the area. By upcycling 17 old houseboats into buildings, using specialized plants to clean the soil, and installing low-cost clean technologies to make the development’s resource management as circular as possible, we helped the City transition a dilapidated and polluted zone into what is now a sustainable community hub, workspace, and place for sustainability and circular economy education.
The site was designed to house the offices of around 30 companies, including Metabolic Lab – a learning hub for workshops and masterclasses – an on-site cafe, and an aquaponics greenhouse which provides microgreens for cafe meals served. Solar panels on the roofs of each boat generate electricity that is shared between the boats via a microgrid, and grey water from each boat is filtered through natural substrates so it can serve as water for the plants. Sanitation in each houseboat was designed to facilitate the collection of organic waste that can be fed into a biodigester and struvite reactor, from which valuable nutrients can be extracted for the greenhouse.
The culture of the space is one where the creative and social enterprises that rent the houseboats-turned-offices have bought into the collective ideals and vision for a more sustainable and circular community. This is complemented by the energy and enthusiasm that comes from the people of the surrounding neighbourhood, who are encouraged to use De Ceuvel as a cultural and community hub to come together, enjoy shared experiences, and get involved in creative projects.
A showcase for circular experimentation
De Ceuvel is a blueprint for circular experimentation, showcasing urban, closed-loop thinking in action. Since its conception in 2012, the project has generated significant national and international interest and income to the area. Pre-Coronavirus, the site was receiving over 35,000 visitors each year, striving to attract everyone, from young students to utilities and locals from an older generation. It has welcomed students, policymakers, and businesses from Taipei to LA to Cape Town.
It has also become an important showcase and research center in Amsterdam for applied sustainability and scalable solutions, winning many awards for sustainability innovation. Its experimental nature cultivates diversity, shares expertise, and contributes to open-source knowledge. It brings alternative methods of urban resource provision to life by setting a positive example and inspiring thousands of visitors every year.
De Ceuvel is where visible circular development started for Amsterdam. Its successful birth in 2014, in tandem with the conceptualizing of neighbouring sustainable floating village, Schoonschip, prompted the signing of the multi-partner manifest for a fully Circular Buiksloterham. The city’s focus on circular urban development has continued to strengthen, with its current focus on numerous initiatives, one of which is the consideration of circular tendering procedures for the development of city plots, which has the potential to transform the entire city’s development patterns.
For more information about this project, please get in touch.
A Cleantech Playground
An extract from the report is included below. For the full report, in PDF, please follow the link below.
- produce food
- purify water
- generate energy
- treat organic waste
- support cleantech R&D, and
- provide education and inspiration for those wishing
- to adopt decentralized and renewable technologies
- Performance targets: A set of performance targets for each major aspect of site construction (on the level of individual buildings as well as the level of each neighborhood as a whole).
- Fixed and flexible elements: a mix of fixed technological recommendations and flexible elements that can be selected by users depending on their specific preferences and financial means (similar to buying a computer or car and being able to choose preferred options and add-ons).
- A technology selection tool consisting of a set of decision trees that will guide users through the suitable technological options we have identified for the site.
- A financial modeling tool that will allow users to see the cost and earnings profile of any selected technological mix, including upfront investment, overall costs, and payback times.
- A phasing and deployment plan recommending when investments should be made in order to keep the project financially feasible while still reaching the highest sustainability targets.
- Recommendations for creating specific management structures within both communities to handle do-it-yourself (DIY) constructions and shared oversight responsibilities, such as system maintenance, which will continue throughout the lifetime of both developments.
Blueprint for Sustainable Cities
- Achieving the highest goals for renewable resource management(further defined in the “goals” section on pages 24 and 25).
- Exemplifying integrated design principles. We recognize that sustainability goes far beyond just physical resource management. The CTP should support a healthy, enjoyable, and beautiful living environment. The technologies included should work with realistic behavioral constraints and contribute to a socially cohesive environment.
- Providing room to experiment and to evolve over time. Neighborhoods should not be created in a static vision of what is possible right now: they should be designed to improve and grow over time. It should be possible to upgrade to newer and better functioning technologies as they become available on the market. The site should also be a testing ground for small-scale technology pilots that can become more broadly adopted if they are successful.
- Inspiring and educating. The implemented technologies should be made visible and their functionalities explained. The site should be at least partly accessible to parties wishing to learn about this kind of development approach. Data on the system’s performance should be collected via an integrated IT system and used both in user feedback mechanisms as well as recommendations for policy development.
- Replicability. Though pioneering projects can sometimes require an extra boost to get off the ground, we want the fundamental approaches used in the CTP to be financially viable within the short-to mid-term, and to be user-friendly enough that they represent a realistic alternative to the status quo. All of the designs and calculations for our work are therefore published under a non-commercial Creative Commons License and distributed broadly to encourage widespread adoption.
Phased Development Plan
Strategy and Activities
Final System Performance
- “Featherlight” footprint: infrastructure on site will be minimized, with the objective of all boats only having a connection to the electric grid, but no other utility demands. As largely autarkic elements, the boats will be able to leave the site after ten years without leaving much of a trace.
- Regenerative development: the phytoremediation plan and biodiverisity measures will result in a cleaner and more biodiverse area than at the start of the project.
- Fast return on investment: using a DIY approach and recycled materials, return on investment is possible in under five years for all recommended interventions.
- Closed material cycles: reuse of nutrients and energy on site.
- Evolving technology landscape: continual improvement of system performance by adopting new technologies as they become avaiable and affordable.
Final Targets Achieved (highlights)
- 100% renewable heat and hot water supply
- 100% renewable electricity
- 100% wastewater and organic waste treatment
- 100% water self-sufficiency
- 60 – 80% nutrient recovery
- 50 – 70% reduction in electricity demand over conventional offices
- 10 – 30% vegetable & fruit production using locally recovered nutrients sensor network and real-time system performance displays