A research facility at The Reef: some reflections

After the final Reef workshop at Metrolab, @matthias and I had some fruitful discussions about how climate innovation would work in practice at The Reef. In this post, I try to summarize them roughly, so that we don’t forget them.

The action point is for me to call a meeting in December (ahead of writing the stage 2 proposal) with C-KIC, and for Matt to write two well-explained example of the type of innovations that could be developed in The Reef: emissions-saving, with a technological component and a social component.

We have always though of The Reef as a hybrid space: it is residential, but also commercial. People and small businesses live together, and exploit the resulting economies of scope (the coworking space becomes a great space for parties after 18.00, etc.). We now propose that part of the commercial space is allocated to a university lab on green living. The inspiration comes from Metrolab itself: interdisciplinary, result of the collaboration between two Belgian universities, EU-funded. The advantages:

  • Participatory climate innovation. The Lab offers residencies to researchers wishing to develop innovation around climate-friendly urban living. The Lab itself is the “academic home” of the researchers, and The Reef is their living home. This means that the innovation can be field-tested in The Reef (within reason). Further, “eat your own dog food” is built into the innovation project, because the researcher is embedded for real into the community he is innovating for. All this makes the work of innovating much more participatory.

  • Increased financial viability. Research funding pays for the living costs of the researcher(s), who live in (one of) The Reef’s guest room(s). This makes the exchange between the researchers and the permanent residents more fair; the latter help the former test her ideas, and the former pays rent, contributing to keeping the resident’s living costs affordable.

  • Cultural enrichment. The Reef selects residents also on the basis of their commitment to the planet. Going to lunch/hanging out with academics is likely to contribute to the way The Reef, as a community, moves forward, for example which changes in their way of living to adopt in the near future.

  • Promotes The Reef from “just another C-KIC project” to infrastructure for its mission. We can ask C-KIC to go through their community and help us put together a coalition of entities that would like to be part of this Lab. Should not be a difficult sell, since they are a major climate innovation funding agency! This should accelerate the whole process, create massive legitimacy (thus justifying public sector direct involvement), and expand the range of stakeholders who have an interest in making The Reef happen.


I thought about this a bit more over the last days, and I think I settled on the two innovations already that I want to include: small heated spaces and heated clothing. The descriptions you requested are being developed behind the click …

I think this would be a really good first R&D project for The Reef’s research facility, because:

  • Major benefits! Building operation is 28% of global CO2 emissions (source), and the major part of that is space heating. So there is the potential for high impact some time into the future. (I’ll find better numbers and sources …)

  • Interesting for everyone. It’s suitable for a mixed community as both a R&D team and a testing ground. Because to create heated clothing and small spaces that are enjoyable and truly better and even more comfortable than our current stuff, it needs both tech ideas, social interaction design (the norms developing around its use), artistic input, handicrafts work and attention to physical comfort and health. It also needs attention to the physical differences between men and women, starting from the volume-to-surface ratio differences, which in turn will influence the thermal lag time (the time somebody is comfortable in a cool environment without heating). So in total, this is a very cross-interest and cross-gender research activity: there’ll be something interesting for everyone.

  • An unclaimed area that can be ours. This set of ideas is so far outside the mainstream of current industrial products that we’ll have quite some years to develop this undisturbed before businesses etc. start picking up on these ideas. This is unlike in other areas, where our R&D contributions would stay largely invisible because there is so much competition already.

Edit: Decided to split the idea into two, added some descriptions to both in the linked document. I consider this task done now, except you find another idea in the linked document that I should describe instead. Or if I should add an illustration or something.

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Science fiction to the rescue: I was reading Utopia Five by A.E. Currie, set in a post-climate catastrophe world. As fossil fuels get banned and the economy scrambles for efficiency, some geek who has read Dune comes up with the idea of building real stillsuits, the utility clothing used in the book on the desert world Arrakis:

Stillsuits were hooded leather bodysuits with a layer of water bladders next to your skin. Making them work in real life required a little more engineering than the original author had envisaged, but collectively we got it working. The suits were more efficient at managing the temperature of a human than warming or cooling a whole building. Just don’t ask where the water in the bladders came from. Actually, in the UK we used the tap. Heating, cooling, and water re-use. All built into leathers. It was local and efficient. We all looked like futuristic biker gang members. I never thought that was a bad thing.

Sounds like fun?


Great that metrolab + workshop 3 were source of such lights !
They got this axis on urban ecology full of researchers that could for sure be part of the reef lab.
I sent an email to Marco Ranzato that shared the keys of the place with workshop 3 summary + ask to spread it to ecological related researchers.

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How do people feel about adding an associated rural “campus” to the research facility? Anywhere rural where we can find govt support to get us a place for such a facility … such as via the Italian aree interne programme.

Probably it’s too early to even think about it right now. But it could complement the approach, and I care about the rural / simpler conditions quite a lot … and I’d finally get a proper home base :blush:

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Not a bad idea. We should write it into the corresponding activity in the proposal.

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Does the rural campus need to be in Europe?

As far as I am concerned, not at all. I would welcome this to be in Tunisia, for example :smiley:

Not sure if either C-KIC or European universities can funnel funding to a research campus outside the EU, though. As these are the funding sources we envisage right now.