University faculties are more than places to learn and study. They’re also where students meet, mingle and bounce ideas off one another. Where student teams form up and compete in challenges. And sometimes, what starts as a one-off challenge, evolves into something more. Margot Holländer and Kosmas Spanidis, together with Anna Tsagkalou and Francisco Munoz, co-founded MOR Studio, which transforms (empty) buildings, bringing new purpose to existing structures. “We’ve already proven how much is possible, transforming a former data centre into a sustainable housing complex.”

Holländer and Spanidis met at the faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment of TU Delft when participating in a student team. The goal: successfully participating in the Solar Decathlon Europe competition which challenges students to design and build prototypes of the most sustainable house possible. Holländer: “it was a truly multi-disciplinary team of over 40 TU Delft students from eight different faculties working together. We designed and built a prototype that was displayed in Hungary. In the finals, we ended 2nd place, but we were also awarded in eight out of the ten contest categories, setting a new world record.” The team wrapped up the prototype and shipped it back to the Netherlands, where it is displayed on the grounds of TU Delft field lab The Green Village.

In 2020, minister of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy Eric Wiebes opened the MOR pavilion on the Green Village. His enthusiasm had the team thinking, explains Holländer: “we realised our project could be interesting for construction and social housing companies. So we started meeting and discussing, but then Covid happened… Nonetheless, we stayed in touch and formed a new team that led to us forming a company: MOR Studio.”

Repurposing empty buildings

MOR Studio looks at old, empty buildings that are no longer used and how they can be improved – transformed, as Holländer and Spanidis like to call it. Holländer: “Think of empty offices changed into housing. You want to make the building facades more attractive and make interiors fit for healthy living, for example. Architects usually talk about operational energy: energy used for heating, cooling, lighting, cooking, etcetera. But there’s so much more to look at when repurposing a building.”

It’s not just about the building, but also the surrounding area, explains Spanidis. “If you want to work on sustainability, you have to look at the whole picture. Ideally a building is energy positive, not only providing energy for itself, but also giving back to its surroundings. And then there’s resources. We add materials to a building when transforming them, but ideally we also re-use materials from ‘donor buildings’ – recycling resources.”

“It doesn’t matter how complex the structure of a building: it’s possible to transform it into a sustainable landmark.”

Margot Höllander

Founding Partner, MOR Studio

Guidance and fresh perspectives

The lecturers and teachers of their faculty played a big role in developing their vision for MOR Studio says Spanidis. “Andy van den Dobbelsteen was our first mentor during the Solar Decathlon Challenge. He already had valuable experience in that specific competition. Not much later in the process, lecturer Peter de Jong joined as a mentor. Both of them are still there for us, providing us with fresh, holistic perspective on our ideas and projects.”

It goes beyond traditional academic concepts, explains Holländer: “we also started meeting with professor Hans Wamelink. We knew he was very knowledgeable about entrepreneurship, how to work on your business model. At the time he was busy launching BK-Launch, but he made time for us and since then, has also involved us with BK-Launch a lot. We’ve given some guest lectures, share our story with students. The network of industry contacts that BK-Launch provides is also very valuable for a start-up  like us.”

Build less, re-use more

MOR Studio spends a lot of time finding their market, explains Spanidis. “We’re specifically looking at underperforming and/or vacant buildings. We built a solid network of partners with whom we can work on buildings like these. There’s a trend in the market, build less, re-use more.”

One example of this vision is a former data centre in Utrecht, that is currently being transformed into a housing complex. A massive project, Holländer explains. “We learned a lot from that project, but now that it’s mostly wrapped up, there’s time to breathe, evaluate and think again.” The building embodies what MOR Studio wants to prove to the market: it does not matter how complex or specific the structure of a building: it’s possible to transform it into a sustainable landmark.”

That specific aspect is truly a unique selling points, feels Holländer. “In this case, our client was a housing corporation. We proved that a sustainable building can be realised, even for social housing and maintaining an affordable level of rent.” She smiles. “We’d love to prove this to a whole lot more companies and organisations in the near future.”

Get in touch

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Jenny Konings

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