Dirk Hebel began the inaugural seminar with a brief account of his personal journey into the creation of the Karlsruhe Institut für Technologie (KIT). Dealing with innovations in the construction sector to the promotion of circular metabolisms, detoxification and durability, Hebel’s seminar introduced some of KIT’s most successful research in the search of new materials that promote fundamentally sustainable building practices.
Hebel opened his seminar with a brief acknowledgement of the information shared in the latest surveys by the European Union—namely that the construction industry is responsible for 50% of global CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions, 50% of primary energy consumption, 50% of primary raw materials used and 36% of solid waste produced. Within this framework, Hebel urged the audience to critically consider existing building systems and the profound historical crises in the construction industry that have led to the current scarcity of resources and material reserves.
As emphasised by Hebel, now is the time for a paradigm shift. In his own words, ‘Cities can no longer act as mere consumers, but must themselves become producers’. To this end, Hebel argued that the implementation of circular economies can provide us with different approaches to building and material usage and, in turn, transform the built environment through a vision of our cities as material banks within a system that allows for continuous use over time.
In this mission, Hebel said, the role of architecture becomes key. It must inspire ethical questions regarding the use of materials and combine professional concerns with the innate desire to improve the collective quality of life. Alongside the social and ecological aspects of this, Hebel concluded that, in order to construct dignified housing for all of humanity, there must also be economic incentive to create local value chains fuelled by readily available urban and biological mines, and, perhaps most importantly, human capital.