General Smart City

Breathing with Confidence Thanks to Collaboration

By Jane Judge, DSP Valley
Breathe with Confidence

A small, partly cobble-stoned street in Antwerp’s Berchem neighborhood seems unremarkable enough. On one side, low garages, probably for the apartment buildings on the busier parallel street. On the other side, a newbuild of pleasing dark brick and street-level windows starting at your shoulder. This is the new Yust space (part hotel, part apartments, part co-working event space – but we’ll get to the specifics of what they do a little later).

The entrance is a discreet opening with the usual staircase and ramp combination, dark gray and leading to a glass door. You step inside, into a relatively small space with elevators just ahead of you and hallways to the left and right. Left to the reception and hotel, right to the restaurant and event space. It’s low-key in that modern way: low lighting, dark colors, geometric minimalist furniture. But there’s something else, too.

An inner, plant-filled courtyard in Yust

The very air seems different. It’s not the usual climate-controlled dry air, nor is it the feeling of having all the windows open. It’s something else, something you can’t quite put your finger on. And then you walk into the lobby space and see what looks like a professional science fair display on the wall:  a silver duct pipe mounted on a black board surrounded by text. One part of the pipe has a cut-out showing you the inside.

TakeAir's display in the Yust lobby
TakeAir's display in the Yust lobby

There’s a small monitor with an interactive display, a large TakeAir logo with a forest image behind it.

TakeAir's display in the Yust lobby

TakeAir's display in the Yust lobby

Topping the whole thing, you see the words “Breathe with Confidence.”

You have just entered the first residential building in Europe to install a brandnew system to create more natural indoor air. This is the first European self-styled “Happy Building.”

An upgraded space

Based in Ghent, TakeAir is a company seeking to use technological advancements to improve living and working indoors. We all know that feeling of being in a meeting room for a while: the air gets stuffy, the lighting starts to make your eyes or your head hurt, the room feels stale and dry. TakeAir wants to do away with that and bring forest air inside. They see this as part and parcel with building better, smarter cities. As their website explains, “TakeAir originates from the vision that health and wellbeing of building occupants is the key priority in the design, building, and operation of new and existing buildings.”

Jo Pannecoucke explaining TakeAir's display in the Yust lobby

Jo Pannecoucke explaining TakeAir’s display in the Yust lobby

TakeAir has set out to upgrade our spaces. They’ve created a system that injects beneficial organisms into a building’s ventilation system. Containers of live, highly-concentrated beneficial microbiomes are hooked up to the building’s airducts and gradually dispersed. Every few months, depending on the type of microbiomes being used and the specific setup, the containers are refilled to ensure the system remains safe and healthy. But, there’s another piece to this puzzle, of course. It’s all well and good to infuse our air with advantageous micro-organisms that mimic the air in a forest, but how do we know it’s working as it should? The answer: sensors!

But sensors aren’t TakeAir’s business. That’s where this becomes a DSP Valley story.

Collaborative Business Development

DSP Valley and imec are partners in a new VLAIO-funded project, OpenStad (Open City), which aims to create collaboration around all things Smart City. Smart City is also one of DSP Valley’s main focuses, with Program Manager Mark De Colvenaer coordinating efforts to build sustainable business opportunities for Flemish and international companies. Additionally, together with City Lab, DSP Valley set up and propels the SmartCities.Vlaanderen initiative. This is a member organization that, using the quadruple helix model, works to stimulate innovation around Smart Cities in – you guessed it – Flanders. Through SmartCities.Vlaanderen and Open City, collaboration creates an exciting space for companies to make connections and get support for new technology research and development, business models, and also concrete implementation.

Participants in a SmartCities.Vlaanderen workshop hear about the OpenStad project from imec

Participants in a SmartCities.Vlaanderen workshop hear about the OpenStad project from imec, all while breathing with confidence!

On 23 September, Mark organized the first workshop event for the project, inviting those companies who had expressed interest in being involved to a brainstorm meeting at the DSP Valley offices. At one point, Jo Pannecoucke, co-founder of TakeAir, took initiative. He declared that he’d like to immediately initiate a partnership with another of the companies around the table, Renson. One of their specialties is smart ventilation, meaning they were perfectly equipped to help monitor a natural air ventilation system. While TakeAir had had some contact with Renson, they had yet to initiate face-to-face, concrete talks. But here they were, sitting around a table in a SmartCities.Vlaanderen meeting. Kismet!

Succesful Outcomes

Of course, such breakthroughs and concrete partnerships are exactly what such meetings are supposed to do, but we don’t want to completely quash the spark of serendipity that brought TakeAir and Renson together. 😊 The partnership has already born fruit in the new Yust space in Antwerp Berchem, all possible thanks to TakeAir’s microbiome healthy air system paired with Renson’s ventilation technology, which came together thanks to the SmartCities.Vlaanderen and Open City networks.

Jo Pannecoucke explains how the TakeAir and Renson system lets us breathe with confidence

Jo Pannecoucke explains how the TakeAir and Renson system lets us breathe with confidence

Jo Pannecoucke explains how the TakeAir and Renson system lets us breathe with confidence

Isn’t it exciting to think what other collaborations and advancements will come out of such collaborative business development?