Prioritising a sustainable agenda

Amsterdam is filled with sustainable buildings and a community of people who develop, design and create them. De Ceuvel in Noord grows organic produce onsite for its café, Park2020 uses greenery to help bees and butterflies and VERTICAL is bringing eco-friendly living to Sloterdijk. Even sports fans are getting in on the action – Johan Cruijff ArenA is one of the world’s most sustainable stadiums and its roof generates power through thousands of solar panels. 

The creative minds responsible for this community are driven by a desire for a sustainable future, and Eric Frijters is helping lead the way. As the co-founder and director of FABRICations, a firm specialising in architectural design, urban planning and regional strategies, he’s not shy about his aims. “We have an agenda,” he says from his office in central Amsterdam. “The agenda is changing environments.”

FABRICations Eric Frijters

Eric Frijters

Embracing the theoretical

However, that agenda doesn’t always lead to tangible results. “We produce books and written pieces and illustrate futures that aren’t there yet. We also investigate the consequences of circularity for cities and buildings, and what it means to design a healthier environment,” he explains. “They don’t always translate into physical realities; sometimes, they’re just advice or guidelines. Sometimes it’s immaterial, sometimes it’s super concrete.”

Frijters’ willingness to embrace different kinds of projects and focus on the theoretical was vital to FABRICations’ early success. In fact, the firm might not have lasted, had he and his colleagues pursued a more conventional path. “When we went to the KvK (the Dutch chamber of commerce) to introduce our new business, we found out that there were, like, 458 architectural offices in Amsterdam, and we thought it would be a very bad idea to become number 459,” he says. 

“So, the first thing we did – which was also how we earned our money – was to make a list of 20-25 people who we thought would be capable of answering the question, ‘What is the main issue of tomorrow – what is the main challenge we will face?’ We interviewed business leaders, star designers, everybody we thought could answer that question, and we published those articles. That’s how we got money to survive before we actually started to widen our scope and have various activities to support our business model.”

Surviving through collaboration 

Knowing the value of partnerships has enhanced the quality of FABRICations’ work and even helped it survive 2008’s financial crash. “We discovered…that real knowledge is required to come up with real solutions,” Frijters says. But how do you access that knowledge? 

The answer is simple: work with other experts. “Getting the best results means collaboration. It’s a lot of fun actually and it got us through the crisis,” he says. “Our company was founded in 2007 and a few months later, the banks stopped working and we found out that [the resulting] urge for collaboration, and sharing any commission that comes in, resulted in a much more sustainable ecosystem…it was not [originally] intended like that, but it worked out in a very sustainable way to get us through the financial crisis.”

Working with others has also allowed FABRICations to successfully take on projects around the world. Whether it’s designing an urbanisation model in Indonesia or creating a sustainable economic development plan in Albania, Frijters and his team embrace working with other professionals, consultants and institutions to ensure the best outcome.

FABRICations Indonesia project

 An artist's rendering of the Cascading Semarang project in Indonesia

Doing his homework

Research is a critical component of FABRICations’ work, and Frijters believes that a comprehensive knowledge base is required for success. “There’s not a very critical knowledge body dealing with innovation in building, construction or spatial design,” he says. 

“So, we decided to [create one]— to be curious, to ask questions, to adopt technologies that aren’t usual practice in our discipline. Now we deal with data gathering, scraping websites and hacking other things to find the data that is not usually available, so we learn skills you need to get the answers for a more sustainable future.”

Remembering what matters

Though much of what FABRICations does remains in the realm of ideas and concepts, they pursue traditional projects as well. For instance, the Casco Loft, which is part of Amsterdam’s Superlofts Houthaven complex, has the futuristic feel you’d expect of an innovative firm such as FABRICations. The minimalist design centres on open spaces that encourage interaction, and the complex was constructed using renewable and recycled materials to minimise the waste of natural resources.

FABRICations Casco Loft

Casco Loft

Like everything FABRICations does, this project builds on collaboration, thinking outside the box and committing to intensive research. And even though FABRICations is intensely outward-looking, it holds onto its roots. Frijters says: “We try to learn the skills of others to keep moving, but never forget our own.”

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