As a contractor, father Patrick Vandenbempt has worked in the construction industry all his life. As he saw the more technically complex walls without joints become increasingly popular, he experienced first-hand how it was becoming harder and harder to find experienced craftsmen. Therefore, his aim was to develop a product that would lead to fewer errors in the construction of façades, such as efflorescence or white marks. In addition, the product had to increase the speed of the construction process, allow building work to be carried out in all weather conditions and help reduce the waste mountain. “I wanted to create a system that would be as easy to use as Lego bricks, and for which we wouldn’t need mortar,” Patrick Vandenbempt explains.
While father Vandenbempt has been enhancing Facadeclick since 2012 based on his practical experience, son Jasper has been working on assignments for his studies in Engineering to develop the system further from a theoretical perspective. “Although the basic idea for the click system is based on Lego blocks, our insert has evolved considerably over the years. Since 2015, we have developed at least a dozen prototypes in close consultation with the Didak Injection team. Efficiency on site and rigidity were key. The result was an intermediate piece with a sliding click connection that has since been patented worldwide,” Jasper Vandenbempt says. “Together with the Nelissen brick factory, we developed a hollow brick that can be clicked on to underlying bricks using the inserts. In addition, we developed a range of tools that, for example, serve to secure inserts under windows with a screw.”
Thanks to the innovative connecting pieces, Facadeclick enables dry construction, and glue and mortar become superfluous. “It means that much less water is needed, CO2 emissions are greatly reduced and you can build in all weather conditions. Moreover, this working method fits in perfectly with the current aesthetic preference for glued façades without joints. Since the bricks really are clicked together, you can’t visually distinguish our system from traditional construction methods,” the duo explains. “In addition, studies have shown that our façade is twice as strong as a traditional wall, and at the end of the façade’s life, all the material can be easily dismantled. Instead of demolishing walls and recycling the resulting rubble, Facadeclick allows the actual materials to be reused.
Studies have shown that the construction industry is responsible for 40% of all the waste in the world. That’s why the European Green Deal, which has the ambition to make Europe the world’s first climate-neutral continent by 2050, includes the idea that the way buildings are designed should be consistent with the circular economy. The ambitious climate agreement also includes renting products and drastically reducing CO2 and greenhouse gas emissions. “As the waste mountain grows, some raw materials such as white clay are already being depleted. So we have to change direction. The circular concepts serve as an effective guide. That’s why we closely monitor whether each step our company takes is in line with that philosophy, and we also select our partners with this in mind. Didak Injection already processes recycled plastic in the HDPE plastic used to produce our inserts, and they are easy to recycle afterwards. At the same time, the material is protected from UV rays that traditionally affect plastic, so that the insert - like the bricks - can in principle last a few hundred years,” explains Jasper Vandenbempt. “The environmentally friendly aspect of materials is only going to gain in importance in the future. An Environment Product Declaration (EPD) will indicate how burdensome a material is for the environment. For example, attention is devoted to the distance travelled by the raw materials, or how much water was needed for production. Although that is still some way off, it could change rapidly. Three years ago, people also thought we were crazy when we talked about the circular economy, whereas that concept has recently become much more established. If, for example, you take the world of public procurement, you see that nowadays, there is very often a demand for circular solutions.
Building materials library
Although the circular concept undoubtedly offers a great many advantages in terms of sustainability, today the price tag is still a decisive factor. “As wage costs account for two thirds, and the material only for one third when building a wall, Facadeclick is cheaper than traditional construction methods. While the purchase price is slightly higher, Facadeclick allows you to build up to three times faster and no post-treatment is required. Moreover, anyone can work with it, so that in principle you don’t even need construction professionals at all. In addition, our brick retains a certain residual value, as it can be reused in the long term. Although only time will tell how much that will actually be,” says Jasper Vandenbempt. “In addition, we need to be able to offer a certain volume. Five pieces are not much use, we need 50 million. From this perspective, our collaboration with mass producer Didak Injection is indispensable too. Now that all these elements have been finalised, the main issue is to counter contractors’ concerns. That’s why we created the Facadeclick Academy.”
While the duo delivered the first sites in Belgium and the Netherlands in 2020, such as an Okay store in Weelde, a KU Leuven building and a sports canteen in the Netherlands, in recent months they have also been looking for additional partners to offer a wider range of brick colours and dimensions. They are also seeking partners worldwide to market Facadeclick in the country of the partner through a licensing agreement, and are already dreaming about the next steps. “We are thinking about how we could use construction waste as a raw material, and how we can further contribute to the reduction of CO2 in the construction industry. At the same time, our dream is a future without waste, in which building materials will be stored in a giant library. It would mean that they would no longer be a product, but a service. As a result, we would have to produce far fewer new bricks, which means that we no longer have to deplete our raw materials and can create a more sustainable world. Although we are not sure if this will ever be the case, we are proud that with Facadeclick we are at least making this option possible. Hopefully we are at the beginning of a completely new vision of the material world around us.”
The fact that Facadeclick was developed in Belgium, where people are born with the innate desire to build their own home, is perhaps no coincidence.