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Ben van Berkel

Founder, UN Studio


Dutch architect Ben van Berkel and his design firm UNStudio have launched a tech startup to “improve the health and wellbeing of people in buildings worldwide.”

UNSense will explore and develop new integrated tech solutions specifically designed for cities, buildings and indoor environments. It will be run as an independent sister company, headquartered in Amsterdam FreedomLab Campus.

Explaining the concept, Van Berkel said: “We are living in the age of the iPhone, yet the architecture and construction industries are still in the Walkman phase. With UNSense, I want to fully integrate innovative technologies into the built environment and improve the way people live, work and get from A to B. It is not the hardware or the software itself that interests me, but how it can be applied within architecture and urban design to improve our daily lives.”

He argued that traditional architectural practices do not have the resources or skill sets necessary to develop new technologies, with little room for prototyping and testing such applications, hence the decision to establish the studio as a standalone initiative.

Data analysts, algorithmists, neuroscientists, policymakers, students, city planners, sociologists and economists will join architects in developing products for the firm.

Early prototypes include Solar Bricks – PV Modules that can be used as a cladding material for the facade or the entire envelope of buildings, providing solar power on a much larger scale than if only used as rooftop coverage.

In the future, UNSense aims to develop and implement digital systems and technologies that enhance the city’s livability, such as digitally enhanced facades and indoor environments “that fully understand a user’s preferences, needs, emotions and even intentions.” Trials for such solutions are currently taking place in Amsterdam and other Dutch cities.

“I look at technology within the built environment from the viewpoint of an architect, and that always starts with people,” said Van Berkel. “Instead of focusing only on performance or energy use optimisation, with sensorial adaptive environments, I see a great opportunity to create buildings and cities that are sensible and sensitive to human beings.

“I am of the firm belief that in the future all architecture practices will become arch tech firms, but for now we have to pave the way to make this expansion of our knowledge and expertise possible.”

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