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Pablo van der Lugt, IRIC2024 keynote speaker

Pablo van der Lugt (PhD, MSc Eng), an expert and passionate advocate of high-performance bio-based materials; InnoRenew CoE International Conference 2024 keynote speaker

  • Where were you living in childhood and where do you live now?

Despite my first name I am 100% Dutch! I was born in the Netherlands, in 1976 in Rotterdam. Despite some brief time living in USA and Costa Rica during my studies, I have remained living in Netherlands, where I now live with my two kids in the cute city of Weesp, part of the municipality of Amsterdam – which is now becoming one of the mass timber nuclea in Europe, with an ambition to build 20% of all new buildings in timber. Read more about it here.

  • What have you studied and what were the motives for your decision?

I studied building engineering and management at the Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment of Delft University of Technology. After my master’s I pursued my PhD study about the environmental impact of biobased building materials including engineered bamboo and timber at the Faculty of Industrial Design Engineering of the same university. I became fascinated by renewable materials during my internship at the social housing program Funbambu in Costa Rica, when I saw the giant bamboo grow, and the strength and brilliant natural engineering of the material – I knew I wanted to learn about more this beautiful material with an image problem (most locals see it as “poor mans timber”).

  • How would you describe your work to someone outside your field?

I describe myself as “quartermaster” biobased building; I love to work at the verge of science – still connected as guest lecturer and researcher to Delft University – and the industry and try to connect and inspire key players and decisions makers along the complete value chain about the many benefits of mass timber and biobased construction. I do this through studies, interviews, writing books and articles, providing presentations and many other ways – mostly through my consultancy Green Matters.

  • What makes you excited about your work?

I love biobased materials and in particular timber and engineered bamboo because of their beauty and tactility, but of course also because of the many sustainability and circularity benefits. For a better understanding see also my interview for Archdaily.

  • And what is the biggest challenge at your work?

 There are still so many misperceptions – also amongst the general public – about timber, bamboo and other biobased materials that dissemination of correct information is pivotal. This is one of the reason why instead of focussing on journal articles, I try to write publications that inspire and inform key prescribers and decisions makers in the built environment, e.g. through my books Tomorrow’s Timber and Booming Bamboo but also the freely available booklet Discussing Timber Myths.

Also through my role as timber expert in the Board of Directors of timber accelerator fund Built by Nature, we try to take away the many hurdles that are available for large scale adoption of timber in various European countries.

  • Which scientist or scientific achievement are you fascinated by and why?

I love the work of Professor Gert Jan Nabuurs (also one of the main authors of the IPCC LULUCF chapter) of Wageningen Forestry Univerity regarding forest dynamics in relation to climate change and the role forests and the timber industry have in climate change mitigation – acting as carbon sinks especially when mass timber is used to substitute fossil materials and built in a demountable way facilitating high level reuse and therefore continued carbon storage in the built environment.

Moreover, the work of Slovenian local professor Andreja Kutnar is really noteworthy; the effect of the visual use of timber on the health and wellbeing of users of biobased buildings is not well understood yet, although – and we can all relate to that – the first signs of a positive effect are becoming more and more apparent in her and related studies.

  • Characterize your life’s guidance or an important realization (or epiphany) you have experienced.

I just follow my passion in my studies and career, not following where the rest of the crowd is going. This is how I encountered bamboo during my studies, being so fascinated that I wanted to know everything possible about this amazing resource and dedicating the next years to achieve just that. When I learned about large scale timber buildings and met North American architect Michael Green (see his amazing TED talk: Why we need to build wooden skyscrapers) I again became intrigued and wanted to learn everything there is about mass timber, finding out that a comprehensive book that covered everything, from forestry to processing, innovation, business case and beyond, was missing. So, I decided to write it myself; this is how Tomorrow’s Timber came to being.

What my next fascination will be? I don’t know, but most likely it will be with some beautiful, renewable material, that can challenge the norm and contribute to a truly circular and climate proof built environment….