R&D Programme 2020-2023 – Informed Design

R&D Programme 2020-2023 – Informed Design

We have a long tradition of connecting research to our projects. We are curious and investigative; through asking questions, we can stay true to our ethos of making the world a better place. The purpose of this – our fourth research and development (R&D) programme – is to outline guidelines for our activities for the next few years in the fields of circular architecture and healthy living environments.

Our curiosity is reflected in the way we work. We believe that search for new knowledge will strengthen our offer for the future. Our mission is to enable sustainable life through the art of architecture.

Research and development has been an important part of the culture at White since it was established in 1951. As an employeeowned company, White sees investments in R&D as a way to develop ourselves, our sector and society at large. Our exploratory and investigative culture serves to nurture both curiosity and creativity in all our activities.

In line with our Strategic Plan the R&D programme should support and inspire our working methods as we strive to enable sustainable life through the art of architecture. During this coming programme period we would particularly like to see initiatives and collaborations that lead to innovations, solutions, new business and new insights into architecture’s role as a catalyst in the transformation of society.

Informed Design – a tool for change

The practice of architecture involves the managing of complex assignments that demand insights into challenges, as well as the capacity to handle large amounts of information.

With the R&D programme’s overall theme of Informed Design we want to emphasise both the possibilities and necessity that knowledge from different disciplines is brought into the design process, to help inform decisions and to push the boundaries of architecture. We see evidence all around us that the requirements for architectural practice are rapidly changing. Digital development is creating endless possibilities to create new design solutions that are informed by data, analysis and simulations.

Both analogue and digital working methods are now part of our daily life. We are fully convinced that design needs to be informed by many different sources: by tried and tested construction know-how, by people’s experiences and changing needs, by fundamental ecological requirements, in addition to technical and economic parameters.

Those of us working within the fields of urbanism, architecture and design need to embrace both values that are measurable, and values that are difficult or impossible to measure. Informed Design involves bringing together all relevant aspects and trying out, judging and evaluating the whole in a creative iterative process.

Thanks to our long-term engagement in collaborative research and development for circular furniture flows, we reached over 90 percent reused furniture in Selma Centre, at one third of the budget. The project was nominated for “Guldstolen”, the most prestigious Swedish interior design award.

The History and Future of Digital Design

Architectural practice has been following the digitalisation trend for quite some time. Already in the 1960’s the use of digital tools to systemise design methods were being explored. From the 1980’s the development of CAD and more lately BIM, has been driven forward by architects. In the 1990’s came what is sometimes referred to as the “Digital Turn”, an experimentation with digital methods from other industries with the aim of exploring their potential for architectural applications. During the 2000’s programming became more accessible for architects with the advent of visual scripting, which has led to the full integration of design and programming in the field of digital design.

All these steps provide architectural practice with an important foundation suitable for today’s situation, where we are seeing digitalisation breaking through in many areas. In order for new technology to be relevant it needs to be grounded in real needs and real problems. White’s broad competence differentiates us from the new actors who are offering services in planning and design based on generative design. Our many disciplines collaborate to form a holistic perspective for all problem solving.

The Development Potential of Informed Design

White’s ambition is to push boundaries. We do that through developing new knowledge and new processes, methods and innovations that increase our possibilities to influence society in ways that are also commercially viable. Our aim as an architectural practice is not be a slave to, or follower of new technology, but rather to be in the front line of both its development and application.

Responsibility, curiosity, involvement and respect are core values that imbue everything we do. Our values remain the constant in a world of change.

Through our own independent development in the digital field our aim during this programme period is to create strategic collaborations with external partners, participate in cutting-edge research and initiate our own R&D projects.

With Informed Design as a tool, over the next few years White Research Lab will focus on the development and implementation of solutions that, amongst other things, also help us to realise the Strategic Plan’s goal that all our architecture is innovative, beautiful, sustainable and carbon neutral by design.

With a form that provokes thought and raises questions from the viewer, the 12 meter tall Observation Tower, at the Getterön nature reserve, will become a very clear landmark for the municipality of Varberg, in Sweden. Accessible for everyone to visit, the structure will put people in direct contact with nature.

Exceptional architecture, design and urban planning – both means and end

Architecture of all scales and styles is a part of everyone’s daily life. Sometimes as an unnoticed background, sometimes as an experience in itself. As an architectural practice White is responsible for creating buildings, urban environments, interiors, and landscapes that provide longterm value for end-users, owners and for society at large. Many of the great societal challenges of our time – such as climate change, resource depletion, increasing social divisions, worsening health – have a bearing upon how we plan, design and build. The UN’s Global Goals for sustainable development call for knowledge-led actions.

Even if the connections are often complex, it is clear that architecture greatly influences our environment – culturally, socially, ecologically and economically. A well-designed built environment is therefore an end in itself as well as a means to realize change.

During this programme period we will focus our R&D activity on two important urban development goals: circular economy and improved health and well-being.

Within our focus fields circular economy and improved health and well-being there is already much knowhow that now needs implementing and as architects and designers we both must and can contribute by developing solutions that build on the strengths of Informed Design. We call these R&D areas Circular Architecture and Healthy Living Environments.

Circular Architecture – the key to reaching climate goals

The climate emergency places great demands on the built environment sector to transform from a linear to a circular economy. As an architecture practice we have an important role to play in this essential transformation. This challenge is now being addressed at all levels. Many of the UN’s Global Goals aim to decrease the use of natural resources in order to help reduce climate impacts. The European Commission has adopted a Circular Economy Action Plan with a specific strategy for the construction sector and buildings. In the Nordic countries governments are working together with academia and industry in order to harmonise legal and policy frameworks for construction. And in Sweden the government has established a Delegation for the Circular Economy that will help to drive the transformation forwards.

The business sector is also playing its part. The Swedish construction sector has committed to an action plan to achieve a climate neutral value-chain in the building and infrastructure sector by 2045. The sector’s emissions are to be halved by 2030. That requires radical action to be taken already today.

The climate action plan means we have many other actors to collaborate with – companies who, like ourselves, want to take responsibility for the changes that are required and also see business advantage in leading the way.

The long-term goal is a circular economy where in principle, as in nature, waste does not exist. Resources are retained for use in society, or returned to nature’s own natural cycles. All products should be designed to be sustainable, repairable and possible to re-use, and particularly hazardous materials must be phased out altogether. These are the challenges we face.

Our own office building in Stockholm – Katsan – is, itself, a result of research and development. Realised via an internal architectural competition, with innovative solutions for heating and cooling combined with a generic building volume, the building offers maximum flexibility, and also provides for biodiversity on the rooftop in addition to many other sustainability features.

Finding value in circularity

Our engagement in Circular Architecture includes the repurposing and transformation of existing built environments – where we can identify and develop the cultural, social, and economic values of what is already there, and also the design of new environments – furniture, interiors, buildings, landscapes and public spaces that must now be designed for re-use, re-cycling, future deconstruction and for more efficient use of materials. The R&D field for circularity is already burgeoning and there are many opportunities for the development of new services, tools, methods and business models.

Many areas of expertise will need to work together to achieve this. R&D needed for circular architecture lies at the intersection of sustainability, design, building technology and digitalisation.

WRL encourages interdisciplinary collaboration that explores problems and develops solutions, concerning for example:

  • Climate neutral and climate positive projects
  • Transformation and re-use
  • Identifying, assessing and developing values in existing environments
  • Design for circular material and product flows
  • Digital tools and business opportunities
  • Processes, systems and logistics for re-use

Lindeborgs Eco Retreat in Nyköping, “the Ecobarn”, is a climate positive facility with hotel, conference and retreat. The old barn has been rebuilt and renovated with wood from the near forest and there is also innovative agriculture and a biological water treatment system. The project is carbon-negative calculated over 50 years. There is also renewable energy from solar cells.

Healthy Living Environments – a question of justice

To create robust and healthy living environments is literally a matter of life and death. There is a long list of areas where urban planning and architecture have influenceon human health: noise, air pollution, sedentary lifestyles, obesity, loneliness, lack of daylight, light pollution, extreme weather events, high temperatures, flash flooding, spread of disease, etc. We also have a need for nature and greenery in our living environments, not only for our own well-being but also because a functioning ecosystem is a necessary condition for survival.

The 65 meters long bench at Forumtorget in Uppsala was developed by Dsearch, White’s in-house computational design team. The bench is composed of 6,726 unique elements made from a glass-quartz composite. The public space was awarded the international Architecture MasterPrize award for Small-scale Landscape Projects.

Agenda 2030, WHO, OECD, and the UN have all recently determined the importance of physical health and well-being as critical for the development of both people and society. In Sweden the health theme is recognised by among others The National Board of Housing, Building and Planning (Boverket), the Public Health Agency (Folkhälsomyndigheten) and by the Government, which especially emphasizes the needs of children. From 2020 the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child has become law in Sweden and children now have a legal right to the living standards that are necessary for their physical, psychological, and social development, as well as a right to relaxation and free time, with play and recreation adapted to the child’s age.

We have an obligation to provide healthy living environments for people of all ages and in all kinds of communities!

Even though children are the most vulnerable amongst us – because they cannot themselves choose how they want to live – we have an obligation to provide healthy living environments for people of all ages and in all kinds of communities. There is already a lot of knowledge about the connection between our built environment and health, but there are still many barriers to change. And at the same time society is facing new challenges. The 2020 pandemic reminds us of society’s vulnerability and the need to adapt our environments in accordance with new patterns of social interaction. WRL therefore wants to especially encourage R&D projects that explore solutions for implementing existing knowledge together with the most recent discoveries and learning.

The past creates an attractive school. Maja Beskow School in Umeå is a good example of how it is possible to significantly reduce climate impact by renovating and reusing existing materials. It is also a creative challenge to find ways to create new, attractive environments from existing buildings.

Environments that support health and community cohesion

The R&D theme Healthy Living Environments has an emphasis on three partially overlapping fields. The first covers design, architecture and urban planning that encourages movement and play and promotes social cohesion and trust. Research and development is required in every kind of built environment: urban areas, housing, workplaces, learning environments, as well as spaces for recreation, sport, and culture. The spatial qualities of the “social city” can be studied, developed and not least followed-up, in order to inform future design processes.

The second field is green infrastructure. Nature and greenery are needed in cities in order to secure people’s physical and psychological well-being and also to make urban areas resilient to extreme weather events due to a changing climate. When cities densify the importance of spaces that provide ecosystem services increases. The elderly and children, whose movements are more restricted, are particularly vulnerable but the same problem affects many of us when green spaces shrink, their use intensifies and their distance from people’s dwellings increases. WRL wishes to encourage research into the spatial interaction between ecosystems’ health promoting qualities and people’s needs from their everyday living environment.

We were in the summer of 2020 selected as the winner of the competition to design a new beach park and sea bath in Bergen, Norway. The proposal, called True Blue, is based on water, which is the most tangible element in Bergen. The exciting architectural approach creates a park which is both beautiful and sustainable.

The third field is how building design influences people’s health and well-being. Climate change is leading to more extreme temperatures and higher wind speeds, and creates new demands, both on urban design and architecture. People need light and air: access to daylight despite densification, functioning solutions for ventilation and night-time cooling, non-hazardous materials. We also need space for calm and rest in our homes and in the outdoor spaces nearest to us.

In summary, WRL would like to see R&D projects with a starting point in Informed Design, testing concrete solutions for healthy living environments from the early stages of urban planning, through building design and form, to the detailed design of spaces, materials, furniture and other details.

R&D projects for healthy living environments could include for example:

  • Environments that encourage exercise and support physical literacy
  • Public spaces that promote trust and social connectivity
  • The spatial implications of the sharing-economy
  • Stress-reducing architecture and outdoor spaces
  • Places for ecosystem services
  • Access to daylight and night-time darkness
  • Healthy indoor climate and nonhazardous materials

On the Danish island of Bornholm, the small port town of Hasle is renowned for its lingering sunsets. Hasle Harbour Baths was the first project commissioned by the island to boost its developing tourist industry; a social gathering point in the water, where people of all ages and abilities can bathe, relax and enjoy the spectacular sea views and sunsets.

Collaboration – to push boundaries in practice

At White, practice is at the heart of our research and development activity. It is through our various commissions that we identify challenges, explore possibilities and test out solutions. The possibilities to drive R&D projects together with our clients and other actors in our industry is the key to real change. This programme is therefore an invitation to collaborate, directed to industry, academia, the public sector and society at large.

The possibilities to drive R&D projects together with our clients and other actors in our industry is the key to real change. This programme is therefore an invitation to collaborate, directed to industry, academia, the public sector and society at large.

International collaboration

The need to achieve circular flows and to create healthy living environments transgresses national boundaries. White Research Lab intends to develop international collaborations that contribute to broadening our perspective with regards to the problems as well as the solutions. Our aim is to participate in ten R&D projects with international consortia during the programme period.

The former clothes factory Heinzelmann that used to be the centre of life and the source of livelihood for generations in the German city of Reutlingen, is today a cultural heritage site being transformed. By 2023 the area will become a sustainable mixed-use district with 87 homes, gastronomy, ateliers, office and co-working spaces.

White meets the future

This R&D programme is both a declaration of intent and a guide for White’s continued journey towards a sustainable future. We focus our efforts on areas where the development needs are clear and there is a great potential to contribute to change. The programme is based on a broad assessment of developments and trends in the world around us. It has identified some critical challenges, at the same time as it emphasises the importance of integrating thinking and acting in a profession that is many-facetted, complex and continuously changing.

A starting point in all new building projects should be, can we reuse and adapt an existing building? Those questions are now much easier to find the answers to, thanks to our new service White ReCapture. The inventory of materials and building parts has been digitised and transparent through 3D scanning and specialist knowledge, which facilitates and maximises reuse.

During the programme period White Research Lab will stimulate R&D that pushes boundaries for what’s possible, that makes a difference for both people and the planet, and that shows how architecture, design and urban planning can contribute to the Global Goals.

We invite you to join us!

Read our brochure

Click here for print version and here if you prefer to read on screen.

Contact Person

Anna-Johanna Klasander

Anna-Johanna Klasander

Research & Development director, Development director


+46 31 60 87 08

Please share!