Local Goal Getter Roger Haan: interior architect with an eye for sustainability in an environmentally damaging sector

Our guest today, Roger Haan from the interior architecture firm InterAlter, expresses sustainability in all his words and deeds. This makes him stand out in a sector characterized by the intensive use of environmentally harmful goods and practices. In his actions he revolves against the suffocating feeling that we are more and more encased in plastic hermetically sealed buildings.

Fast fashion in interior

The company InterAlter, which is located in a beautiful historic building in the center of Valkenburg, exists for five years. During that time, our Local Goal Getter has gone through a steep learning curve in the field of sustainability. By leading several renovation projects, he came to the conclusion that the construction sector was responsible for a massive mountain of waste. Based on changing needs and changing fashion trends, he was confronted with assignments to replace one interior after another. The scrapped materials turned out to be hardly recoverable or recyclable. In the hotel sector, for example, the average life of a hotel interior is only 7 years. In an era in which sustainability is inevitable and is the point of discussion in many media and professional literature, he has thoroughly changed his vision and approach to interior architecture. In addition to the aesthetic, he focuses on the use of ecologically sound materials.

Biodegradable material

Because everything in our society is so temporary, Roger strives as much as possible to use materials that are easily degradable, biodegradable or easy to “clean up”. To make the alternatives visible and tangible, InterAlter is building a material library. Every material included in the collection must meet four conditions. First of all, it should cause as little damage to the world as possible. Subsequently, the production process of the material must meet humanitarian requirements. For example, it is investigated whether child labour or severely underpaid manpower is involved. Locally mined and/or produced materials are a third criterion for winning a place in the library. Affordability is a final condition for selection. By predefining these criteria, a number of SDGs are pursued: in particular, the pursuit of fair work (# 8) and responsible consumption and production (# 12).

Materials in the InterAlter library

Roger said that only a quarter of the total material arsenal survived this critical selection procedure. For example, they have to eliminate a floor tile made from shells. Although the product looked very natural at first sight, the substances used to compress the shells into a tile turned out to be toxic. On the other hand, he showed us some samples of a material that looked very artificial at first sight. But the basic raw material for these samples was recycled household waste and therefore, it fits perfectly in the library. Cardboard has also been able to conquer a place in the material collection in many sizes and shapes. For example, Roger and the InterAlter team have created a pop-up shop for shoes based on cardboard. Because a pop-up shop is by definition of a temporary nature, the maximum limitation of the waste mountain during the demolition was essential. The cardboard boxes stacked sideways served both as shelves on which to display shoes and at the same time as walls to compartmentalize the retail space. When the shop was closed, the waste mass was reduced to a minimum. Another sustainable material that Roger showed us was local Ardennes pine.

Well-being and health

The conversation with Roger showed that the pursuit of well-being and health is also close to his heart (SDG#3). In daily practice, he notices that consumers do not think critically about products that are offered on our Western market. For example, PVC floors are now very hip and also cheap. On the other hand, these PVC floors do not turn out to be as harmless as one suspects. The plasticizers that ensure that these tiles do not break are poisonous and these toxic substances are gradually released after installation. Roger emphasizes that as an interior architect he will inform the customer about this, but that the final decision always rests with the consumer.

Challenging search

Our Local Goal Getter admits that it is a great challenge to always present cheap and ecologically sound alternatives. After all, we live in a super-fast consumer society where every year innumerable new materials are offered whose intrinsic qualities nor the impact on the environment are known. Another challenge lies in construction regulations. The insulation standards are very high, but Styrofoam, the basic material of this insulation is extremely harmful to the environment. Regarding this, Roger is actively looking for alternatives as well, for example in the form of rockwool or even wool of Limburg sheep.

Co-operation

Roger also started creating a blog and podcasts. He is an erudite person and he wants to share his insights and have critical conversations with colleagues and material experts in order to share his knowledge with the world. This is in line with SDG#4, namely quality education in the form of knowledge dissemination. The professional association of Dutch interior architects (BNI) supports and sponsors this initiative. Partnerships are of fundamental importance in this complex world (SDG#17). For example, for a specific assignment relating to the ecological renovation of an eatery, he set up a partnership with a brainstorm team. That team was staffed by students with all kinds of different specialties who could provide advice in those areas in which he himself fell short.

An architect who looks beyond today

Rogers’ biggest dream is to be able to keep his ecological footprint to a minimum with every remodelling project. He is very self-relativizing because he emphasizes that he is more and more aware of the fact that he does not know much as he delves into matter. But he is ambitious and passionate and continues to brave the tide. He has a heart for his work, his customers and Mother Earth. He is open to communication and is very eager to learn and understand the needs of the customer. In short, he seems like an ideal consultant and designer to include in a renovation project, especially for a clientele that looks beyond today.

Text: Anna Hermans

Photos: Séverine Louf

Editing and Design: Jennifer Timmermans, Linda Vecvagare & Lars Wingerath