When it is time to determine a topic or at least find a field of interest for your thesis, the possibilities are almost endless. For me this a daunting task, I have so many interests, that I find it hard to choose. Luckily there is support from the teachers. The fact that there are some discussion sessions organized, complemented by a presentation during wich we have to present preliminary ideas, force us to think about it. This facilitates making a coarse selection of the direction that has your interests.
I noticed that whatever is currently on your mind, or what you are engaged in pushes itself forward in conversations with my peers regarding thesis topics.
In the first session this meant my attention when to economic models or economic system change regarding sustainability. This needs some explanation. The reason that this specific field had my interest, was due to multiple reasons. One reason is that working as an architect (from my company Walden Studio), I noticed two things, first of all, sustainable solutions are often ‘too expensive’. But in reality it has a lot to do with how budgets are allocated not with wether the budget is suffucient in total, which it often is. Secondly making a project sustainable has a lot to do with the priorities set in the beginning of a project and with which parties are involved. That means that as an architect you can have the best intentions of making something sustainable, but oftentimes you become involved too late in the process to make something truly sustainable. A solution for this problem could be, to be involved in the initiation of projects or intiate projects yourself. Another reason for my interest in economic models was my fascination for the concept of Ex’Tax: ‘a proposal to bring tax on natural resource use up and tax on labour down. The idea is that this creates incentives to save natural resources, makes services more affordable and boosts manpower, craftsmanship and creativity’. I see a lot of potential in this proposal to repair more, and as they mention dissuade people from using virgin material.
Latest project of Walden Studio, a sustainable annex to an existing house. Sustainable here means good insulation, using renewable & non toxic building materials as much as possible and using the roof for solar energy production.
Wether you want to steer financially on sustainability or aim to initiate a project yourself, you need to know about economics. Why do projects start? What (financial) drivers there are for a project? Is a certain project is economically feasable? And the list goes on.
These questions sparked my interest for the field of real estate finance, so I decided to follow a course at the TU Delft called real estate valuation. The course gave me a lot of insight into how real estate is valued and thus why projects are initiated or aimed at specific groups.
The year before most of my courses had been about urban issues, nutrient recovery, inclusive cities, waste recycling etcetera, all somewhat idealistic themes. Therefore what struck me in the valuation course was the complete lack of goals other than financial maximization in realizing real estate and the lack of ways to include other value than economic value.
The maxim was easy, how to make capital grow as much as possible, sustainability was only seen as an obstacle, the bigger a project the better. This can only be detrimental to the natural environment and social inclusion of a city as it stimulates new greenfield construction and massive resource use, increases CO2 emmissions and pushes vulnerable groups to the peripheral areas that have lower quantity and quality of services.
This made me wonder; what better more socially just ways of providing housing were out there? And what other financial or economic models might be more sustainable than the current system based on the utopian idea of unlimited growth?
Could this provide a topic for my thesis?
Laurens van der Wal / 05-12-2018