Stefaan, what was the origin of your interest in building design?
I like buildings in general: when I go to a church, I usually look around the building and up, not at the priest. It all started in middle school, where we did an amazing work with small fragments on the walls of a historical building in the city of Sint-Niklaas. I really enjoyed making intricate ornaments of plaster. There are still similarities to my work today: we did drawings and calculations on parts of a temporary construction which we later implemented ourselves with brick and mortar - we even used computers and digital drawings to plan it beforehand. For me, it was fun because, in addition to my interest in the technology behind modern buildings, I have a fondness for historical buildings. Bringing the practical and theoretical sides together was fundamental to my learning process. It's interesting to see how construction has changed: if you compare the construction of Notre Dame with a modern building, there are huge differences in terms of aesthetics, the process itself and safety. Driving this change along with our customers is an incredibly satisfying experience.
Why are you working at Xella today and not as a restorateur?
At Xella we offer a revolutionary product. I'd say it really works in our modern environment because the calcium-silicate blocks can be laid very quickly. Customers are looking for the most efficient ways. Even when I renovated my own house, it was important to me to use clean and environmentally friendly building materials - so I used Xella Ytong blocks for the new extension. And, of course, there isn't really much demand for the knowledge of creating ornaments these days, it's cost intensive to make them and not very efficient. But I had some additional study days for example for the restoration of old concrete materials.
What do you like about your job as a BIM manager?
What I really like about the job is just handling the geometry and the information which resides within, thinking about the problems, trying to solve issues, and to have a good relationship with our customers. We see ourselves as a service provider – and service is not a word we loosely throw around. It's really a commitment at the start of a project to offer adequate digital services. This is challenging because they have to adapt to the evolving technologies that our Belgian contractors are using. I think when customers are happy, it creates a positive relationship. It opens the door to a constructive and goodwill partnership.
And that positivity also comes from our growing office. Everyone has a great sense of humor and a unique personality. There is really a lot of cohesion in our team, which is a strong foundation for the future. Because the adoption of BIM has become inevitability. Preparing ourselves for even more BIM projects in the foreseeable future is one of our top priorities.
What kind of sustainability goals do you pursue in your daily work?
For example, we have the chance to lease a bike to get to the offices and I gladly make use of this: most of the time, I ride my bike to the office, which keeps me healthy and helps me to be a little bit more environmentally friendly. The idea that small efforts will not make a difference in stopping global warming is one that leads to negligence and ultimately not taking responsibility for our actions. The increased use of cloud services and digital work tools in our office also encourages my behavior to print as little as possible - so that the digital versions of our products are transformed into physical materials only after the design process, when they are produced in the factories.
Additionally, for larger deliveries, we support the use of boats. It is an eco-friendlier alternative to traditional transportation methods.
What is the environmental advantage to favoring ship transport?
It uses less CO2 than conventional trucks, especially because our production plant is on the banks of one of the larger rivers in Belgium, to where we import materials to make products and from where we deliver them. Using more boats in general demands the necessity to better pre-calculate what we need to deliver by those ships. The use of BIM models is instrumental in these pre-calculations. And it also relieves the pressure off our highways. (see also)
Fortunately, there’s been a recent influx of projects delivered over water and we're actively looking to continue that in the future.
Finally, what role does safety play for you?
An extremely important one. Everyone has loved ones they care about. As I said at the beginning, construction has gotten a lot safer over the years, but we shouldn't rest on our laurels. A few years ago, I was in a different context at a construction site. I saw the craftsmen using the tower crane instead of the mini crane to place our large format calcium-silicate blocks - they tried to save time and therefore did not move the mini-crane from the other side of the building. Due to a strong wind, the blocks swayed. I saw someone hanging on to a block while guiding the placement - and jumping off just in time to avoid a serious accident! That was the moment when I realized that the consistency of our work has an impact on the safety on-site. Every accident is preventable. Rushing must always give way to safety.