Design a high rise building that is as healthy as possible with as little energy or heat loss as possible

My roles

  • Design Research
  • Physical Prototyping
  • Social Design


  • Physical prototype
  • Product two pager
  • Service two pager
  • Business two pager

Signing up for the Circular Challenge

Every year, BlueCity organizes a Circular Challenge in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Our team was asked to design a high rise building that is as healthy as possible, with as little energy or heat loss as possible. Our partners were BAM Wonen, one of the largest construction companies in the Netherlands, and Woonstad Rotterdam, a Dutch housing corporation.

Current challenges of high rise buildings

When doing research at the start of the project, we discovered that air quality is one of the biggest challenges inside high rise buildings. That’s because European legislation inhibits them from circulating healthy air which has an impact on ventilation and overall air quality.

When talking to residents, we learned that social isolation is another major challenge inside of high rises. The layout of most high rises means many residents live separately without knowing the names of their neighbors. As a result there’s no sense of community or responsibility.

“Air quality is one of the biggest problems in high rise buildings. My office is healthier than my own home.”

– Employee at BAM Wonen

“What’s missing in my building is a sense of community where people can trust each other and feel a shared sense of responsibility, especially in common spaces.”

– Resident in a high rise building

Let’s start with improving air quality

When thinking of ways to tackle the first challenge, improving air quality, we made sure to focus on low-energy solutions. Since we had to collaborate virtually, we decided to collect all of our ideas and inspiration in Mural which allowed for easy share backs and synthesis.

Our most interesting discovery was a TED Talk by Kemal Meattle, in which he talks about growing fresh air with plants. In addition to turning carbon dioxide into oxygen, plants are also a natural way of removing pollutants like benzene, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene.

Who is going to take care of the plants?

While plants are a low energy solution to improve air quality in high rises, they still need to be taken care of. What if residents took care of the plants together? Not only would it improve the air quality inside high rise buildings, but it could also be a way to increase social cohesion.

How do we set residents up for success?

Throughout the years, there have been many different social experiments regarding intentional communities. However, most of them fail due to a variety of reasons. As a result, we have defined several conditions that ensure the success of a community.

Communities should not be too big. If a community consists of more than fifty people, members are less likely to know each other which leads to a lower sense of responsibility and accountability. Communities of less than twenty people make it hard to share workloads.

Secondly, communities need a physical “third” place to meet as well as a shared activity to bond over. These activities can be intentional but also unintentional, leading to “casual collisions.”

Another condition for communities to be successful is having members with different roles such as movers and shakers (those who like to initiate new ideas), burden lifters (those who like to take care of chores and administrative tasks) and peacekeepers (those who like to mediate when there is conflict).


Right size


Physical space


Shared activity


Distributed roles

Our circular low-energy solution

By redistributing the space of one common floor throughout a high rise building, we can create neighborhoods that consist of no more than fifty people. If there is no common space to be redistributed, existing common spaces like hallways and staircases can be upgraded.

By adding plants to these common spaces, air quality will improve as well as the social cohesion since residents will have an excuse to connect, intentionally or unintentionally. What happens with the remaining common space is up to each individual neighborhood.

The technical component of our solution

To make efficient use of space, we have developed circular and modular building blocks where plants can grow in. By using mycelium, we can grow as many building blocks as we need in many different shapes and sizes. Not only will these blocks improve air quality and social cohesion in high rises, but they can also replace non-circular insulation for warmth and acoustics.

In addition to placing the building blocks in new common spaces, they can also be placed in existing common spaces and private homes. For example, they could be stacked to replace non-weight bearing walls in staircases. Moreover, since they don’t have to be stacked they could also be placed in windowsills of residents.

Circular and modular building blocks

For common spaces as well as private homes

The social component of our solution

To make sure that residents and plants thrive, the delivery of the tiles is divided into three phases. During the first phase, we help residents complete tiles that are already 90% finished. The ultimate goal is that residents have a better understanding of circularity.

During the second phase, we help residents install the tiles into their common spaces such as hallways and staircases. Tiles could also be installed in private apartments and balconies. The ultimate goal is that residents develop a sense of responsibility and accountability.

During the last phase, we help residents maintain the tiles from watering the plants to distributing roles and responsibilities. The ultimate goal is for neighborhoods to be self-sustaining which allows us to move on to other high rise buildings.

Phase 1


Our role:
Movers and shakers

Ultimate goal:
Raising awareness around circularity

Phase 2


Our role:
Burden lifters

Ultimate goal:
Instilling a sense of responsibility

Phase 3


Our role:

Ultimate goal:
Creating self-sustaining neighborhoods

Wrapping up the Circular Challenge

While we didn’t win the challenge, we still learned a lot about circularity and collaborating remotely. If we were to continue with our project, we would have continued with growing building blocks and started with placing them inside high rises. How do residents actually want to use our building blocks and why? What shapes and sizes are ideal?

Last but not least, I want to give a huge shout out to Blue City for organizing the challenge and wish future participants all the best. If we want to become completely circular by 2050, we’re going to need everyone from all backgrounds to collaborate. So if you’re looking for a collaborator or someone to bounce ideas off of, please don’t hesitate to reach out.