Living lab: Bio Receptivity

Flowers blooming in Spring surrounding the P-Olympos parking lot.

Enclosing an energy-neutral, circular parking lot is a potential green oasis unfolding before us. Gabions* filled to the brim with rocks and debris recycled from the Dom tower, as well as the adjacent grass verges, serve as a host for aspiring mosses and greenery.

The gabions and grass verges are part of a living lab, in which the susceptibility of organism growth on building materials and its surroundings is tested. In interdisciplinary teams, students, researchers and operational staff look at the possibility of integrating new buildings into the existing landscape, contributing to local biodiversity and capturing fine dust.

Students and collaborators filling in the gabions at the construction site in P-Olympos.
Students and collaborators working on filling the gabions with rocks.

The premise for this build was sustainability and making it ‘as green as possible’. In the end it has become a sustainable space for continuous experimentation and research, with the possibility of it becoming a green space full of life.

Kevin Dijke, Project Manager V&C

How it started

Project Leader Kevin Dijke initiated the living lab together with bio-inspired innovation coordinator Jaco Appelman. Kevin Dijke coordinated the build of P-Olympos and the design included gabions alongside the structure. Initially, the gabions would be filled with lava stones, but a more environmentally friendly alternative was sought after. Kevin and Jaco met up, and soon after Jaco had found a way to connect researchers and students to the site, making it a space for experimentation.

The exploration of suitable, sustainable materials for the gabions led them to the debris from the renovation of the Dom tower. Together with volunteers, the gabions were filled and the research could commence in the parking lot of the P-Olympos in the Utrecht Science Park. 

Blooming of flowers around the gabions of the P-Olympos to promote biodiversity.
Experiment: Passive watering system


The goals in this living lab are quite broad, and it is hoped that successful outcomes of the experiments inspire others to apply similar methods. The experiments happening within this living lab are mainly focused on promoting biodiversity, greening our constructed spaces and capturing fine dust - it is hoped that such an aesthetically inviting initiative will have a spillover effect that inspires architects, scientists, artists, and many others to take on such initiatives elsewhere.

Newest updates

The Subcontractor (SIGHT Landscaping b.v.) was inspired by the developments around P-Olympos, showing that the idea of (passive) native regreening can spread towards landscape agencies, ultimately creating a bigger impact.

Presently, the gabions are still in the process of greening, and part of that process also involves ensuring enough plant life around the gabions. During a collaboration with the UCL London, it was found that mosses grew better on urban structures when they were located near a source of biodiversity, be it a park, a garden, or a stream. 

Measuring biodiversity over five years time

Interestingly also is that first year biology students are taken on a field research experience to learn to take samples from the surrounding area of the parking lot as part of their curriculum. One of the students from a BSc course 'Ecology & Experiment' developed a protocol and clear instructions on how to measure/estimate biodiversity around the Olympos buildings and on the gabions. It is expected that this will be repeated at least five times, and hopefully more to observe how the environment interacts with the structures.

Passive water collection & storage

Another major initiative is being conducted by a student who is now testing methods of water collection and storage in a passive fashion with waste-stream materials from the campus. Currently, data is being gathered to create a proof of concept and produce a first design that will be made into a prototype. Once all the data is collected, the lab hopes to collaborate with a design school to create four prototypes that can be tested on the Gabions. 

Want to know more?

Please get in touch with

Think you can make a valuable contribution? Then get in touch with Jaco Apelman 

To see which other UULabs living labs there are, view the campus map.

*Gabions: Walls made from steel fences, filled with stones and debris.