in conversation with ...

Johan Van Dessel

The construction industry brings together a wide range of professionals: from the contractor who builds your house to the technician who installs your heating. These professionals need training and support to keep up with the latest techniques and legislation. Buildwise, as innovation centre in the construction industry, is an important coordinator and source of knowledge. BE REEL! spoke to Johan Van Dessel, strategy and innovation coordinator at Buildwise.

Johan Van Dessel has been working at Buildwise for about 25 years. He graduated as a bio-engineer with a specialisation in construction. He started as a technological consultant on waste and recycling and saw that theme evolve into environmental issues and sustainable development becoming more and more important.

What is your current position and what projects are you involved in?

Johan: "In my current position, I am responsible for realising the ambitions of the Green Deal for Buildwise as well as possible. I help set the strategy for various activities. These range from circular building to climate adaptation, but certainly also include renovation. I try to bring drive to that set of activities. Because of its size and scope, BE REEL! is a project where that drive can certainly find resonance."


Whet exactly is Buildwise and what does it do?Johan: " Buildwise is the new name of the Belgian Building Research Institute (BBRI) and its mission is to support every construction professional in his activities. We operate bottom-up, driven by our technical committees, in which our contractors are represented. With the transfer from BBRI to Buildwise, we have redefined some emphases. The focus has shifted from research to innovation. Buildwise wants to create impact in the sector. The best way to create impact is to make sure you are in a network where you can spread Buildwise knowledge, innovation or education. That's why we do so many collaborations with administrations, training centres and so on to ensure that that knowledge flows optimally.  

Something that is very specific to Buildwise is our breadth of knowledge. We literally have every aspect of the construction sector in-house. That multidisciplinarity is really our strength. Take building details - also for renovation: we have the competences to incorporate every aspect from those details into construction. Those are aspects of fire safety, emissions, product safety and so on.

Buildwise is also a partner of the BE-REEL! project. Can you comment a little on the projects you are involved in?  

Johan: "I would like to point out four things. Because of our broad competences around knowledge on building topics, we mainly work within BE REEL around capacity building. The most important one is the renovation academy on the online learning platform Learnworlds where we offer professional courses to building professionals on various topics linked to renovation. These topics are varied and range from heritage renovation to moisture problems, acoustics and diagnosis. capaciteitsopbouw. 

Something that is very specific to Buildwise is our breadth of knowledge. We literally have every aspect of the construction sector in-house. That multidisciplinarity is really our strength.

We are also working on more technical-specific topics such as interior insulation. For example, we have been working on a technical information note on this for some time, which will be published in 2024. Some parts are also available now in the renovation academy and are quite successful. To give you an idea: for the winter courses on interior insulation, we have reached an audience of more than 400 participants in physical sessions, and for the total reach of the different workshops, we come to around 3,500 participants. Third, in 2023, we developed a tool called Renocheck to optimise the diagnosis necessary for a renovation project.
Fourth, we set up the Renovisiontour with Constructiv and the building federations. We held booths at 9 locations in Belgium where more than 1,300 contractors and building professionals could learn about the latest technology and practices around renovation."

What can Buildwise mean for the deep renovation of buildings and what challenges do you see here?

Johan: " To keep it short: a lot. (laughs) Surely the construction sector is facing capacity problems these days. Both technically and in terms of numbers. Buildwise can help ensure that new knowledge and practices are developed, about building processes for example, and that they flow efficiently through to the sector. At the same time, there is also a great need for extra labour at every level. From site workers to engineers in the research departments. And there Buildwise can demonstrate, among other things with our demo centres, that the construction sector dares to innovate and is increasingly making a digital switch. That way, potential workers see that the construction sector is an attractive sector that works on social issues where you can add value.

Buildwise can help ensure that new knowledge and practices are developed.
For the technical part, you have to focus strongly on speeding up the processes, with digitisation being an important item to speed up renovation. Then we think of techniques such as laser scanning that allow renovations to quickly achieve the desired results. For larger projects, this is the inclusion in BIM environment or the step towards industrialisation. A second issue is improving processes. How the industry works together to speed up the large number of renovations. Basically, the customer whether private or corporate should be able to start their renovation with confidence."

Opinion questions

Suppose: as a policymaker, you may change/create 1 policy to help achieve your objectives. Which one do you choose and why do you choose it? (You may choose the policy level yourself)

Johan: "One very concrete one ? As long as we have an imbalance in the cost price of gas and electricity in actual use, it will be difficult to introduce electrification of the building stock, and heat pumps in particular, into the market. For new buildings, it just about sells itself, but for renovation projects, it is a very difficult story. So if I could suggest 1 policy measure, it is the shift of tax on gas and electricity or at least a price ratio that balances the two more, so that the level of electrification can be significantly increased even in renovation projects. "

On which hypothesis/theme around energy renovation would you like to see a study or concrete action published and why?

Johan: "I have two: group renovation for private buildings and industrial renovation like the Dutch concept Energiesprong. We already have some actions around that, but it wouldn't hurt to be able to scale this up so we can get to the actual massification of renovation."

Finally, a question about the future: will it succeed?

Johan: "I refuse to look pessimistically at the future. So fundamentally I see it optimistically, but at the same time we have to note that we experienced another summer full of climate disruptions. This means that the challenge of reducing greenhouse gases and climate mitigation is becoming a gigantic task and the need for renovation is weighing ever heavier. I fear a higher gear will become necessary."

Thank you for this conversation

You can findout more about Buildwise on their website.