METABUILDING Labs, or how to improve the technical and environmental quality of façade components for building construction

METABUILDING Labs, or how to improve the technical and environmental quality of façade components for building construction

The construction sector has evolved over the years and, with it, processes and products have gradually adapted to the needs of the market at all times. At CARTIF we have been researching and working in the field of infrastructures and building around thirty years to transform architecture and develop technological solutions focused on sustainable and intelligent construction.

We operate in different fields of application with special emphasis on the sensorisation and monitoring of infrastructures, the integration of renewable energies in buildings, as well as 3D printing technologies in construction, devices and IoT networks (Internet of Things).

On the road to the quest for the smart home, CARTIF researches in building rehabilitation and preventive maintenance, 3D digitisation and measuring, FEM simulation, the development of new materials with innovative properties and solutions for logistics and transport.

A proof of this is the METABUILDING Labs project, where we lead the construction of a network of test benches for façade components.

Metabuilding labs brochure

The main objective of this project, funded by the Horizon 2020 european programme and compound by a consortium of 40 partners proceed of 13 european countries, is contribute a Innovative European Ecosystem and a competitive, sustainable and inclusive grid of Open Innovative Testbenches, that stimulates the inversion of vanguard technologies for building envelopes.

With a focus on optimising the technical and environmental quality of building products, the project consortium is driving the development of these technologies by providing access to services and infrastructure for prototyping, testing and certification. The platform serves as virtual and unique access to this powerful innovation ecosystem, that includes a wide grid of testing facilities.

In addition, innovative, replicable, standarised and cost-effective facilities known as O3BET (Open Source/Data/Access Building Envelope Testbench) have been desgined and developed during the project to test innovative envelope components under real conditions on a 1:1 scale.

CARTIF has been invovled in the definiton of the requirements and specifications of the prototype of this 03BET and has built the first and only test bench of these characterisitcs in Spain, which is located in the Boecillo Technolgoy Park, next to our facilities. The aim is to continue working on the start-up, the definition of tests and services, the development of the corresponding digital twin, as well as the replication of this test bench, which will be built in seven other countries in the European Union.

This is a milestone that we want to continue to pass on to all companies in the building renovation sector, especially SMEs, to facilitate their access to highly innovative testing tools. And, ultimately, to improve the sustainability of construction.

Talking about everything visible and invisible (I)

Talking about everything visible and invisible (I)

The European Collaborative Cloud for Cultural Heritage (ECCCH), created in 2023 and aimed to create innovative tools for digitizing cultural heritage objects, is a trending topic in the UE applied research to ensure the sustainable and affordable conservation of our historical legacy.

For sure digitising cultural heritage involves a wide variety of technologies and techniques, some of which serve to analyse visible issues (those what we ‘detect’ with our eyes), and others serve to discover and analyse invisible issues (those what we are not able to see). Have you ever wondered what those techniques are? Keep reading as we begin in this episode with the visible ones. Don’t be impatient, next time we will explain those used for the invisible.

Digitising the visible characteristics of cultural heritage objects requires at least this range of innovative tools and methods:

  • High res-3D scanning: to capture the shape, texture and geometry. Techniques such as laser scanning, structured light scanning, Structure from motion (SfM – by means of image sequences) or Neural Radiance Fields (NERF – adding IA to image sequences) are employed to create detailed 3D.
  • Advanced imaging methods: this can include techniques such as multispectral images (normally between 3 and 20 spectral bands not necessarily contiguous to each other); hyperspectral images (formed by a greater number of bands but always contiguous); or reflectance transformation imaging (RTI), which easily reveal details, enhance colour accuracy, and provide material analysis.
  • Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR): to enable immersive experiences and interactive visualisation of cultural heritage objects. They allow users to explore digitised objects in virtual environments, providing a more engaging and educational experience.
  • Metadata and semantic annotation: to ensure proper organisation and retrieval of digitised cultural heritage objects. These tools enable the description, classification, and linking of objects to related information, such as historical context, artist information, or cultural significance.
  • Robust data storage and management solutions: As the volume of digitised cultural heritage objects is hugely growing, cloud-based platforms and digital repositories are required to provide scalable and secure storage for the vast amount of data generated through digitisation efforts.
  • Collaborative Platforms: to ease collaboration among multiple institutions and experts, facilitate sharing, exchange, and collaboration among stakeholders, enabling seamless access to digitised cultural heritage data.

We know how to do all these things at CARTIF. Do you dare to ask us?

What does decarbonization have to do with Cultural Heritage?

What does decarbonization have to do with Cultural Heritage?

Decarbonization is the “trending topic” of terms related to sustainability, energy and the environment. It is the process of reducing the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) released into the atmosphere. Decarbonization means reducing climate change and dependence on fossil fuels, which are precisely those that emit CO2 when burned (clear examples are fuel-oil and coal). Decarbonization implies the use of cleaner energy sources, but also the adoption of technologies and methods to protect the environment and to reduce these emissions (the so-called “carbon footprint”).

However, what does this have to do with Cultural Heritage? Well, you will be surprised for sure, but it turns out that Heritage contribuyes many important things to decarbonization: the preservation of historical buildings, the reuse of spaces, the promotion of sustainable mobility, the promotion of cultural tourism and technological innovation in the assessment and the conservation of historical assets. In other words, it turns out that offers an environmentally friendly approach to urban planning and rural development.

If we go into a little more detail, you will see that Cultural Heritage can play a significant role in decarbonization and the fight against climate change. Here we provide you five ways to do so, but I´m quite sure your are able to think of some more (please tell us):

  1. Technological innovation applied to conservation1 of historic buildings (where CARTIF has a lot to say): here the sensitivity required by historic buildings implies the development of specific techniques and technologies, which have broader applications in reducing carbon emissions in other fields of construction and environmental management. The digitally based technical inspection, the preventive conservation and the intervention involving H-BIM avoid both ruin and/or demolition, as well as new alternative constructions, which significantly reduces the material and energy resources to be used for these purposes. Furthermore, and this is worthy of remark, the old buildings were designed and built up with techniques and materials that are inherently sustainable, taking advantage of aspects that we are “rediscovering” right now such as orientation, natural ventilation and the use of native materials.
  1. Reuse of spaces: Historical sites and buildings can be suitable adapted for new uses and transformed into living or working spaces with a level of comfort appropriate to the 21st century, which in the medium-long term saves resources compared to the construction of new substitute structures. This reuse contributes to greater energy efficiency and the reduction of carbon emissions.
  1. Adaptation and transcription of ancient professional techniques: historic places are examples of how antique societies adapted to environmental challenges (which have always existed) and how lessons learned in the past can be adopted today through proper understanding and technological shift of traditional techniques and uses (both materials and methods).
  1. Promotion of sustainable mobility: The preservation of historic centres in cities increasingly promotes sustainable mobility. In fact, they were desgined to move on foot, on horseback or in wagons and carriages. Therefore, they absolutely favour pedestrian accesibility and the use of public transport instead of private vehicles. This reduces dependence on fossil fuels and decreases greenhouse gas emissions.
  1. Development of sustainable cultural tourism: it is more than proven that sustainable cultural tourism can play an important role in the local economy and even in the region, encouraging more environmentally friendly practices such as waste management, conservation of biodiversity and the promotion of quality agri-food and crafts.

But, does Cultural Heritage really do that much? Obviously yes. Indeed, a lot. In line with the priorities of the European Green Deal and the EU´s climate ambition for 2030 and 2050, the European Cultural Heritage Green Paper emerged in 2021, where indeed it is already considered a driver of decarbonization and mirror upon which citizens see themselves as key actors in the actions needed on this regard.

Historic building and decarbonization is a bionmial over which the Cultural Heritage & Regeneration Committee of the European Construction Technology Platform has been working for years (CARTIF takes part of the Executive Board). Its latest strategic research agenda for the period 2021-2027, promptly refers to this. And it is an issue that has been deepen into recent plenary assemblies. It is no wonder when 24% of the residential buildings in Europe date back to before 1945, nearly half of them have historical value, and of this latter, 73% are located in cities, which is precisely where the alrgest carbon footprint is made.

From now on, will you see Heritage with an additional view further than cultural, religious and tourist ones? Another thing for you to know.

1 In line with UNESCO and ICOMOS usage related to tangible heritage, conservation is considered as the umbrella term to cover a range of preservation, conservation, restoration, (re)use, interpretation and management activities.

Interdisciplinary Teams: The Future of Cultural Heritage

Interdisciplinary Teams: The Future of Cultural Heritage

Innovation and new technologies bring forth a variety of possibilities, obstacles and unknown questions that in order to be addressed, require the formation of interdisciplinary temas that allow for the reinforcement of each professional´s skills, enriching themselves with the knowledge, experiences and abilities of others.

This is how CARTIF understands it, and it becomes even more evident when approaching Cultural Heritage through the lens of the 21st century. As an example, the department dedicated to this cahllenging yet fascinating subject is currently comprised of Industrial and Computer Engineers, Physicists and Architects. They are always opent to new additions and work closely in collaboration with professions that naturally reside in this field, such as Historians and Archaeologists. Together, they work to respond to the six fundamental pillars internationally recognized for ensuring the sustainability of Heritage in its tangible, intangible, and digital forms.

Applied and continuous R&D leads to products, processes and services that prove to be useful in the medium term for the research, protection, conservation, restoration and dissemination of cultural heritage assets. Not only with technologies, but also with corresponding methodologies, even allowing for the evaluation of their economic and social impacts in both urban and rural areas. We couldn´t study historical aspects or analyze buildings or monuments architecturally without scientifc knowledge, the devices created by engineers, or the programs developed by computer scientists.

In fact, the digitization of Cultural Heritage, whose correct technological understanding and translation was addressen in a previous blog post, has positioned CARTIF at the forefront of defining the European Union´s research and technical priorities in the field. Now, it expands with the definition of new business models that ensure the preservation of the Heritage we currently enjoy for future generations.

Nevertheless, technology and innovation must always be accompanied by directives, guidelines and recommendations that take into account the local population; policies where Heritage is truly considered an asset; and the promotion of professional training, dissemination, awareness, and education, as it is impossible to value what is not known.

That is why Cultural Heritage, far from being something static, is constantly evolving, even as a concept, and demands updated professional profiles that address everything we have discussed. It´s quite a challenge. And these profiles begin to take shape in the collaborative project we have been carrying out at CARTIF. We always consider the business perspective, the requirements of public administrations, the uniqueness and sensitivity that each site requires, and the places and people involved. It´s another way to involve and build a future rooted in the past for the younger generation.

Analysis of a pictorial artwork using Terahertz cameras, which have applications ranging from material analysis and conservation status assessment to art authentication. Their ability to penetrate different materials and reveal hidden detials makes them a valuable yet uncommon tool.
If you own an old sculpture or painting, take it to the dermatologist

If you own an old sculpture or painting, take it to the dermatologist

A wood lamp emits ultraviolet (UV) light and is a diagnostic tool used in dermatology to determine whether a person has a fungal or bacterial pathology on the sking or scalp. If so, the area illuminated by the wood lamp will fluoresce, becoming apparent in different colours associated with different pathologies. Perhaps you have ever undergone this test. The doctor will have told you to close your eyes to protect your vision and the light in the room where you are he will have turned off to highlight the fluorescence. Among other possibilities, if it turned out light blue means that you have normal and healthy sking; yellow is oily skin with acne; brown is for pigmentation and blackheads; and if white spots appear, drink more water, because you have dehydrated skin.

But surely you had not stopped to think that his technique is also applicable to diagnose similar pathologies in movable cultural heritage assets made of organic materials, for example wood or resin sculptures, or paintings covered with varnishes madre from three resins. The passing of the years, inadequate conservation conditions and dirt are defining aspects in the appearance of fungi or the yellowing of varnishes, so that if sculptures or paintings are illuminated with a wood lamp, we can clearly distinguish fungal conditions, and the extent of dirt (even where they are not yet perceptible to the naked eye), or if a painting has been touched up because the yellowing of old varnishes turns fluorescent.

Heart of Jesus inspected with wood lamp

In the ITEHIS project a wood lamp that emitting light around 365nm (UV) and producing fluorescence around 500nm (perceptible by the human eye) has been used to inspect a statue of the Heart of Jesus from the late 19th century, validating the fungal infection (especially mold) and making evident its true extent.

A wood lamp thus becomes an absolutely effective, eay-to-use, non-invasive and economically admissible mean, even for a person like you and me, to help clean and restore our heritage. A true example of a “low-cost” technique to keep it there. But this does not end here, because further R&D is required to associate new colours with new pathologies in a moment where climate change and human globalization bring “bugs” that do not correspond to the latitudes where they currently appear. But don´t worry about that, CARTIF is already taking care of it.

Beyond strategy. Smart use of engineering expertise.

Beyond strategy. Smart use of engineering expertise.

“Divide et impera”, popular ancient Rome motto later attributted to the Roman emperor Julius Caesar. “Divide and dominate” or better known as “Divide and rule”, was the strategic foundation on which the Roman Empire was built (27 bC – 476 ac). Almost nothing. In line with the political and military relevance of this slogan, in the mathematical field, it gave its name to one of the eight classic heuristic strategies of problem solving, together with codification, organisation, experimentation, analogy, introduction of auxiliary elements, search for regularities and assumption of the solved problem.The others are proper notation, solution drawing, systematic experimentation, analogy, introduction of auxiliary elements, problem reformulation and way back.

The solution strategy we are talking about is based on breaking a problem into a set of smaller sub-problems, solving these sub-problems, and combining the solutions. This methodology is widely used in various scientific fields and that under different names, theorems, or methos, such as the method of integration by parts (integral calculus) or the principle of virtual jobs (strength of materials), has promoted the resolution of complex problems by converting them into multiple “easily” solvable problems.

If there is one thing that characterises the world of engineering, it is precisely this eagerness to transform problems. We have all heard the joke about how an engineer calculates the volume of a cow and how, compared to the functions of approximation to a surface and its subsequent integration that a mathematician would carry out or the performance of a physicist using Archimedes’ principle and putting the cow in a swimming pool, the engineer would give his solution by approximating the cow to a sphere.

In the field of structural engineering, the branch in charge of the design and calculation of structural elements and systems to ensure in advance an optimal structural response (safe, resistant and functional) applies the mechanics of continuous media, a super nice calculation model in the “academic” world whose application in real life is very “chunky”. That´s why we resor to the finite element method, another “divide and conquer” engineering glorification, where the strategy is to convert the continuous medium into a finite number of parts, “elements”, whose behaviour is specified by a finite number of parameters at certain characteristic points or “nodes”. This is commonly called “simulation”, although it should at least be called numerical.

Professionally, I work in this area to design “things” optimally. But when these things are sets of configurable elements or product catalogues, and we want to cover all the options to offer the best, we could talk about the need to develop dimensioning applications or system and product calculation configurators.

Well, after years working on these developments for different sectors, I can say, without fear, that dismembering a project among the different knowledge teams will be the iceberg that leaves us frozen. It seems logical to think that if we are talking about the development of a robust validation application of a configurable product, we need someone who knows the product perfectly, with all its variants and possibilities, its terminology, its meaning, its cost and even its soul, if I may say so. In the same way that we need, at this level of knowledge, someone capable of calculating and validating the product in resistant and functional terms and who knows how to transform, transcribe or visualise this numerical validation in a user-friendly platform. NO, prepare the lifeboats. A dose of reality difficult to digest for an engineer and staunch defender of multidisciplinary projects like me and of breaking down problems. NOT EXACTYL, get lifeboats ready. A dose of reality difficult to admit for an engineer staunch defender of multidisciplinary projects.

Professional experience, with blood, sweat and tears included, has improved our conception of strategy, avoiding sectorial strategies that push the global objective, and ultimately the product, to the background. And to understand this, there is nothing better than the well known expression “cobbler to your shoes”. Do you know what I’m talking about, not yet?

However the presence of different team members’ roles in this kind of work, make it impossible to detect errors or incoherencies derived from lack of conception and lack of understanding cooperation between professionals. It is unavoidable. Architects and engineers do not speak on the same scale, for example. In addition sectoral strategies relegate the functions of the “expert of the product” to setting the norms, rules or ranges of consideration. Which seems quite illogical since the expert is separated from the course of the project. The question is how do we detect failures? and when? it may be even more important. Everything points to final report. So we work such as Titanic’s valiant musicians and we’ll see how the ocean of corrections treats us. I’m talking about that ocean like a succession of final versions succession in which we will be submerged by unforeseen failures and with the corresponding increasing final workload. Now we do know what we’re talking about, don’t we?  

All this, without going into responsibilities which it have also been diluted. To blame are those who…If the person or persons responsible had bid me do so, I might have…

In this sense it is impossible to offer a service aimed to set up validation of configurable products application development if it is not a completely calculation project. So Turnkey project or I hope you are good swimmers.

However, trainings should also be conducted by people that are knowledgeable about the subject matter or the product, better even than costumer who can have been in the business for more than 30 years. We must become experts and think. It’s the only way to cope successfully such a service and that under a holistic approach where each part must be considered as one. So we avoid misinterpretations, unreasonable casuistic,   excessive computing (no scale-resolving simulations) and cannot effectively communicate (the customer never knows what he wants until you show it to them). I want to stand out with it the necessity of acting “in” the moment and “for” the future.

For those interested in these possibilities… where are we going to find someone who wants to learn? To find someone who wants to ask questions? To find someone who can improve the product and performance for your company, and have the ability to do so. I am talking about to use experimental or scientific techniques, with computational capacity and that you can also implement it on a platform so that its usability improves, for example, the competitiveness of the different technical and sales departments of other companies? Can you imagine pressing a button to get the weekly job of a technician?

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