new book reviews

The well tempered city , Jonathan Rose, 2016


Cities will have a prominent role in our future. Whether they are the best solutions for us to live in, is also written in the future. In general I regard people living in cities as trapped: if any system fails to deliver, think of water, food , energy, materials, people are trapped and have hardly any option to supply their own needs. It was a few years ago when in Greece the money tap failed to deliver due to the economic crisis, that many fled to family in the countryside, since they could not survive in Athens. They where the lucky ones that still had family living in the countryside. Anyway, cities are here to stay in some form, and growing. Which comes with opportunities and problems.

And then there is this book by Jonathan Rose, ‘the well tempered city’ : a wealth in examples, cases initiatives , all meant to improve our life in the urban jungle.

Rose touches upon nearly any issue related to cities you can think of. However at the same time thats the shortage, the issues are touched upon, but not in depth explored. “ The answer is urban” , is how the book starts. For the moment that is reality, but will that sustain in our climate and resource threatened future? And whether ‘Cities behave like natural organisms’ , might be true, but the case is not in depth explored. Also the statement: ‘ urban areas use resources more efficiently than suburbs because the are denser’ is not supported by analyses: Its one of the long lasting debates in urban planning. Recent work by for instance Salat shows that the Paris layout in the inner city area might the most optimal from a resource point of view.

There is a section that hits deeper, about the metagnome of cities, but just when it gets to the climax, the text moves away to describe more cases and explore examples .

Nonetheless, it inspired me to get new thoughts about cities and proceed thinking where the book stopped.

In summary: the book will not provide a solid case for specific urban developments. However. Assuming we have to deal anyhow with dense mega-cities, the book offers a wealth of insights, examples and strategies to follow, to make life enjoyable and comfortable. As long as it will last.




The economic growth engine , Ayres et all, 2009

How energy and work drive material prosperity


Ayres in this book attempts in a immense complicated task to connect economical science to physical science. And its a massive piece of work. Economy is usually based on two inputs : of capital and of work . And the rest is regarded as “ manna from heaven” .

Like technological progress: it s nowhere explained in the economical theories, and just happens to happen, at a rate of 2,5 % per year….

At least, thats how it was explained by a person called Solow: at the time the data for the period 1900 -1945 could not explain economic growth as it happened: 85 % of growth could not be explained by capital or labor. So he introduced a proxy: technological progress and assumed exogenous, and named it total factor productivity TFP, and it was assumed to raise 2,5% per year. Now thats economical science….. Maybe some ‘dark money’ capital is out there somewhere. Like dark matter and dark energy in physics…..

However Ayres makes the case for a more solid approach, introducing a third production factor, the unvalued input of natural capital in the form of exergy , multiplied with a conversion factor ( efficiency rate of using exergy).

And this could explain a large part of otherwise unexplained economical growth. Advantage could be that this production factor should be valued, and prevent free ride exploitation of goods. ( Like in GDP, that rises with bad constructed buildings increasing maintenance turn over)

Any way, its partly beyond my knowledge but makes sense: economy is not a science , as he expresses stating: perpetual economic growth is an extrapolation from history and a pious hope for the future , not a law of nature.

The system goes to equilibrium if we don’t value the system itself, the resources, in the economical system. At least thats what Ayres tries. There is another way: get rid of that economical system and just calculate in physical values…. take resources as the base value of society., but thats a long way to go. Anyway, highly interesting and if your into economics, read it..!



Housing corporation award jury

At the National Dutch congress “Sustainable built” , a award will be given to housing corporation with the most creative approach regarding climate change.  As member of the jury I was asked to give a a impression of the implications of  climatechange ambitions.  It has been published as a column on the conference website (in Dutch) :

The congress and award ceremony is 16 November.



Retrofit: Energy-saving or energy-generation?

Just published : our research into the optimal balanced materials package for 0-energy building retrofiit, ZEB . As previous exploring research already showed regarding renovation for row house: better insulate less and add some more PV panels. (B in left graph) . In other words, passivehouse is not the optimal choice from materials perspective in case of 0-energy and beyond. The operational energy in all cases is not relevant since all cases are ZEB: its the materials input that determines the most optimal solution, since that is the fossil energy based impact remaining for a ZEB. This paper shows the results for row houses and detached houses, both calculated for 4 alternative packages.

Preparation of Articles for the Symposium Report Preparation of Articles for the Symposium Report

Ritzen,M., Haagen T., Rovers R., Vroon Z., Geurts C., Environmental impact evaluation of energy saving and energy generation: Case study for two Dutch dwelling types Building and Environment, Volume 108, 1 November 2016, Pages 73–84

for some backround on the MAXergy methodology , visit

for some background on the new situation for building evaluations after eliminating operational energy impact, see Rovers R., Zero-Energy and beyond: a paradigm Shift in assessment, Buildings, 5 (1) (2014), p. 1-13


Participating in PhD defense at TU Berlin

Living in cities has the risk of being trapped when systems fail: how to survive? Cities have faded away from their resource base, and consume far above the carrying capacity of their regions , and combined, beyond that of the earth. How to address this ?

deflander defense

Katleen deFlander did her research just on this issue, working at IASS in Potsdam and doing a doctorate at the TU Berlin. As external supervisor I was able to take part in the discussions on theory development, and in her final defense last week. Her analyses found that cities became closed systems (tree structured cities ; ecocities are gated communities of the future ) , while resource cycles opened widely: infinite supply . While the solutions point at a ‘ open cities and closed cycles’ situation, mutually supportive. A interesting work, were small ‘shocks’ could create changes in the right direction, in any case provide a window to try to re-create the way a city is functioning. Though small shocks might not be enough, it requires major shocks and changes, but at least we will know how to act then.

The full work will soon be available, but expert workshops and dialogue workshops added to the fact finding an theory building. See some of these reflections here:





Int. iiSBE Master cooperation Sustainable Building

masters meeting

For some time a few universities work together under iiSBE umbrella in developing master courses in Sustainable Built Environment. The key universities are  UMinho, based in Guimaraes Portugal, and Czech Technical University in Prague.  Others are associated or affiliated to this process.  A major enabler was a EU program I coordinated called  Ides-Edu [1],  in which 15  universities joined forces in developing course material.  and iiSBE ,with many academic members,  as the independent NGO partner for Sustainable Building,

During the SBE16 Conference in Prague, CESB16 , we have  taken initiatives to broaden this cooperation,  Ways of cooperation were discussed ,  as well as a detailed exploration of getting involved with  a few interested universities. Some had expressed interest during my visits , and were represented by a professional in student and teacher exchange organisation . (  interested universities came from Ukraine , Ireland and Australia).  In the next months the structure of cooperation will be further explored and detailed. Interested universities can of course bring forward their interest , via me ( as advisor for master course development) or  the  coordinator of the running joint masters, Luis Braganca from Portugal.


2) picture: the gathering in front of Comenius statue,


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