At Reincarnate, we are working to develop the technical and social means to give new opportunities to buildings, construction products and materials — thus maximising their life cycle and determining if they are suitable for reuse. This will only be possible thanks to the work of the Reincarnate team, made up of 16 partners present in 8 countries. From leading research institutes and universities to highly acclaimed SMEs and large companies — with expertise in robotics, wearables, artificial intelligence (AI) and social sciences.

Through the “Behind Reincarnate” interview series we are introducing the great team behind our project. On this occasion, we have asked Timo Hartmann, Professor at the Technical University of Berlin (TUB), to tell us about his work as the coordinator of the project.  Take a look at what he has told us on this podcast or read it below:

Carmen: Hello everyone and welcome to this #ReincarnatePodcast. My name is Carmen Serna and today – in the Meet the Team Behind Reincarnate series – we are speaking with our Project Coordinator, Timo Hartmann, who is also a professor at the Technical University of Berlin in Germany.


Hello, Timo, how are you

Timo: Hey, I am good. How are you doing?

Carmen: Fine, thank you very much! It is good to hear you! Thanks to be here with us. And then let us start from the beginning: who are you and what is your role at the Technical University of Berlin? For how long, for instance, have you been working there?

Timo I am Timo – that is easy to answer. I am a professor at the Technical University in Berlin – as you have already said – and I am chairing the Civil Systems Engineer Department. And what we tried to achieve is really to teach civil engineer students again that buildings and other types of structures are complex systems that you need to understand and design from many different perspectives, include many different stakeholders.

In our research, we mainly try to find better design methods, engineering methods, engineering solutions – mainly digital – to support engineering work, in particular with the requirements and needs of civil engineering to solve the biggest problem that we have – climate change.

Civil engineers need to mitigate the problems that we are already having because of climate change. But we also are one of the main contributors to CO2 in the world.

Carmen: And now, how all of these is linked to the Reincarnate project? Can you explain the role you have, and you envision to play?

Timo: For us – as the coordinator – First of all, it is very important strategically also that we coordinate the Reincarnate project, because it is really at the core of what we try to do.

Reincarnate is about developing a set of innovations which will help all engineering stakeholders in the supply chain process of buildings to start making use of possibilities of the circular economy. Basically, they can be used for buildings and infrastructures. We focused mainly on buildings obviously, but can we use it longer, extending the life cycle. But if things get to the end of the life cycle, can we reuse it somewhere else?

The construction industry is the biggest contributor to the waste in all industrial countries. But of course, we also need to just save the new material for them because it is very energy and resource efficient to produce these materials. That is why the project is very important and we are very glad that we can coordinate it. Because it fits right into the strategy that we have for the Department in our Teaching and Research for the next 10 or 15 years to come.

The second question was more the role on the project. I guess we are the coordinator and that is an important role, but we should not be in the limelight. So, I think others would talk much more about their role. We will have a number of scientists – not me – working on the project in terms of understanding new non-destructive methods to understand the status of materials/products and so forth around buildings. And we will have scientists working on developing robotic solutions for the upgrade of building components.

Carmen: All right, so getting inside of the project, what are the expected results and outcomes that Reincarnate wants to achieve?

Timo: That is a big question. From our perspective of TUB Berlin, what we want is to push the boundaries of the proven evidence based scientific understanding of how you can implement circular solutions supported by advanced technologies.

Our goal really on the project is to provide evidence based on demonstrations from our case studies. We have a lot of case studies on the project. They really show if you approach the design and engineering project in that kind of way – using this type of tools that we are all going to develop together on Reincarnate – then you can really leverage the potential of reusing and extending life cycles.

Carmen: Nice, and what are the main actions, activities – that you are working in the project – that you feel and are more excited about?

Timo: Now, I personally need to coordinate this. I am not sure whether I am super excited about this [laughs]. But it is a very important part, somebody needs to create the project environment.

There are a lot of partners on the project. Probably at one time we will have close to 100 people working on it – when you look across the project. Our role as coordinator first and foremost in creating the environment that all of these people – all these 100 people – can really, really innovate and work together and push the boundaries of creating new knowledge. And I think that is what we see our role as a coordinator, creating this creative and innovative environment.

Carmen Since you are working many years now in this sector, how do you see the future of construction? What are the main challenges that the sector is facing at the moment?

Timo: I think I have a quite good picture about the challenges. There are two problems here. The construction is actually the wrong word, because I think that most of the problems come not from the construction. I think we build quite good, once you move out on the construction site. The problem is more on the design and engineering.

One problem that is obviously influences the construction is that we cannot provide construction with the right information that they need to build something. But the bigger problem is that it takes us too long to design and engineer. So, if you think about like normal type of projects, we usually tend to have design cycles, engineering cycles of 10 to 15 years. So, thinking about, for example, flood defense projects. So, we need from 10 to 15 years to design and engineer our fabric fences. Most of the cities will be overflown, looking at the sea level rise. We need to become significantly quicker in delivering design and engineering.

The second problem is, of course, we are doing a really, really bad job in terms of quality. Our stuff holds up, but we sell them commission, any type of product that really works from the beginning. So, no other industry has this. Other industries sometimes have quality problems, but that is not the norm. Usually, they deliver something that works, and we do not. But that is only one aspect of the quality.

The big aspect of the quality is that our designs are terrible in terms of resource usage, terrible in terms of maintainability, terrible in terms of reusability, terrible in terms of all type of lifecycle aspects. Terrible in how much carbon they embody too. And so, we need to also change the industry that we can design and engineer, not only faster, but with much higher quality. And I hope, we can make some jumps towards that in Reincarnate.

But these are the big problems. When you ask me where the industry is moving towards. I can say I am worried that we are not moving towards the right direction. I see a lot of good people and good companies that want to move. On the other hand, of course, the external pressures will get bigger. So, probably that we just have to change. But at the moment, I do not see much.

Carmen Okay. Having shared these challenges the sector is facing, what does Reincarnate brings new to this construction sector moving towards circularity?

Timo: Circularity is one part of the quality design and engineer. So, I think Reincarnate hopefully can provide some new insights, tools, methods and also proven evidence based on best practices and how we can improve the quality of our designs with respect to using less material, extending the life cycle of buildings and being able to reuse things that were used somewhere else. I think that is very important.

Together with the tool kit and the Circular Potential Information Management System that we want to develop, I really hope that we can improve not only the quality but just like kind of a method-based approach, like knowledge-based approach, but also the time that is required to provide the designs.

I hope that to Reincarnate, we can tackle some of these pressing needs and issues that the industry has. And then one of the things we really need to achieve as a team is disseminate this widely, spread the word, motivate companies, people, industry to adopt these tools to move forward.

Carmen: Great! Very ambitious projects have been carried out to transform this sector and make it more sustainable. Do you know any that have inspired you?

Timo: There are many projects around. We just closed one project – BMC Project – where we also worked in a great team to look at energy efficient renovation. That was a very inspiring project.

I think the European New Bauhaus is very inspiring, if it is done right. So, we do not know that yet.

And there are always good examples and things that are nice and many, so it is hard to pinpoint.

Carmen: Okay. So, the next question, maybe it is a bit tricky but, in your opinion – as the coordinator – how can Reincarnate become one of these inspiring projects?

Timo: I think it already is. What would I say, if we made up the project? I think we have a great, great team. We have the right people together, the right organisations together. I think we have a great vision – what we want to achieve and reincarnate. I think we have all the ingredients. As I said, I think – as a coordinator – we need to try to create the organisational environment and culture. It is much more not about structures, but it is about a culture that everybody can really leverage their knowledge and innovative capacities on the project.

Carmen: And we also have 4 years ahead to demonstrate the value of the project and the impact that we want to achieve with it. Do you have previous experience managing coordinating European projects? What is the most rewarding thing about it? Feel free to share anecdotes!

Timo: We are quite a heavy coordinator. At the moment, we are coordinating 3 projects. My time of this is as a Professor and between the teaching and the supervision of Ph.D. students. And we have a big research group of PhDs at the moment. I want to spend my time on things that have an impact.

I believe that projects like this, where industry comes together with academics and bring smart people together, can have a huge impact on how we move the industry forward to solve the problems we are talking about. That is my personal thing, why I do it.

Carmen: Cool! And this is more a curiosity, why the project name is Reincarnate. Actually, we are willing to hear, 3 things this word inspires in you. It can be linked to the project or not.

Timo: That is a good question. We know that “reincarnate” comes from like some sort of Asian philosophical thinking. I personally think – now we get into personal things – but I am very influenced by Buddhism – the philosophy behind it, not the religion, but the philosophy.

But I strongly believe that these are good ways to think of the virtues that you create during their lives will carry on. I think we need to transfer this whole thinking also on products, on hard things. Buddhists believe that stones also have souls – in that sense. Because humanism – the Western notion of humanism – created is that we are really kind to people, which is really good and nice, but it also created this duality between people and the material things. So, we are good to people, but we are not good to the material things. The material things should only support how we are good to people, and that is like deeply ingrained in our philosophy.

This philosophy is probably one of the biggest problems we have in terms of the problems we are facing with global warming. I like the name of Reincarnate and inspires me in that sense because it allows us to think about how we should treat people, we should also treat our products. And if something works for a long time, it is probably a good product. So let us not throw it out. And something new first needs to prove itself. So let us stop buying a lot of new stuff and looking for stuff that works for long term. And then think how we can use it. And I think that is kind of the name behind it.

Carmen: Amazing! And let us move to the last question of this short interview. To wrap up, just IN one sentence, what is the key message that all reincarnate team members must put forward?

Timo: The main message?

Carmen: Yeah!

Timo: For me, there are 2 important things. First, we need to innovate, and we need to be super creative. And I believe that it can only work if we all have a lot of fun together on the project. Everybody in their own way. That is it, then we will be successful!

Carmen: Great. So, thank you very much for your time and being here in this interview, so everyone can get to know more about the project Reincarnate!

Timo: All right. Thank you so much for the interview. Bye bye!

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