Culture and Climate Change – Architecture and Urbanism

Sustainable and energy-efficient – keeping pace with climate protection in construction

Today, no one can afford not to care about sustainability, climate protection or energy efficiency. By the year 2020 there is to be a 40 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from the 1990 levels.

Werner Sobek, apartment house in Berlin, back side, Photo: Matthias Koslik

Within the same period, the German government has set itself the task of reducing primary energy consumption by 20 percent compared with the levels of 2008, and by 50 percent by the year 2050. Saving potentials are to be found in all energy consumption sectors, whether for electricity, heat generation, water or mobility. The greatest saving potential, however, is in planning and construction, in both the construction of new buildings and the refurbishment of existing ones. In Germany, approximately 40 percent of final energy consumption in buildings is for heating and hot water.

Saving energy as a collective task

Manfred Hegger, Plus-Energie-Haus in Darmstadt, Photo: TU Darmstadt, FG ee, Leon Schmidt

Some 24 million residential units are in need of refurbishment, according to estimates of the Fraunhofer Institute for Building Physics. Since the political change in energy policies the energy efficiency of buildings has become a major task for the whole nation, challenging not only architects, but also towns and local authorities, companies and private developers to come up with a solution that is technically and ecologically innovative and at the same time well designed.

Manfred Hegger, Plus-Energie-Haus in Darmstadt, Photo: Solar Decathlon, Kaye Evans-LutterodtOne of the pioneers of sustainable architecture is Prof. Manfred Hegger with his Energy-Plus-House concept. Already in 2007 Hegger and his students at the TU Darmstadt developed a new type of residential building. This design won the Solar Decathlon competition in Washington D.C. With the support of the Federal Ministry of Transport, Building and Urban Development (BMVBS) the project was further developed, and between 2009 and 2011 a scale model was showcased in several major cities. The house is built using a lightweight timber construction method and produces more energy than it actually needs. It also includes many innovative technical and organisational features.

Energy efficient architecture and electric mobility

Werner Sobek, apartment house in Berlin, entrance, Photo: Matthias Koslik

And another prototype house for future low-energy living has been creating a buzz since December 2011. This residential building with around 130 square metres was developed at the Stuttgart University Institute for Lightweight Structures and Conceptual Design (ILEK), under the direction of Prof. Werner Sobek, and has been erected in a central location in Berlin, in the Fasanenstrasse 87a. This innovative concept not only successfully combines excellent design with energy-saving technology in the form of solar thermal energy and photovoltaic panels, also all the building materials can be fully recycled when the building has served its time. The unique aspect of this model project initiated by the BMVBS ministry is the interaction between the residential building and electric mobility. The house is set to be used by a single family of four as from March 2012 and will be scientifically monitored. The surplus energy generated from renewable energy sources will be stored in high capacity batteries and used, among other things, to charge the electric vehicle at the house’s own filling station..

Compact building and housing solutions

Neue Burg in Wolfsburg Detmerode, KSP Jürgen Engel Architekten, Photo: Jürgen Voss

Apart from futuristic home automation and intelligent building materials, an approach to sustainable resource-conserving construction can also be implemented through compact housing and functional architecture. Building on unused plots of land within grown neighbourhoods is also an energy-saving option. The existing infrastructure saves long trips and can even make a car superfluous. Optimised use of land with intelligently designed compact housing solutions and functional floor plans offer the best conditions for energy-saving construction and modern living. Nevertheless, the modernisation of existing buildings is the most important task in the future if we want to minimise the use of fossil fuels in a sustainable manner. And we are not going to make any progress with discussions on efficient insulation systems.

New thinking and planning processes

Südstadtschule in Hannover, former gym, MOSAIK-Architekten, Photo: Olaf Mahlstedt

Instead, we need new urban development models, new ways of living together in order to better interconnect working and living patterns, for example. The conversion of the former school for the blind to the mixed-use building collective “Südstadtschule“ in Hanover is an example of such a new thinking and planning process. This school, that was erected in the nineteen sixties by Friedrich Lindau, has been converted into 17 individually owned flats and two office units by the MOSAIK team of architects in Hanover. The outdoor areas are the design of the office Grün Plan.

Südstadtschule in Hannover, former gym, MOSAIK-Architekten, Photo: Olaf MahlstedtIt is a multigenerational house for single households, families and senior citizen couples. The flats sometimes extend over several storeys and are designed with between 59 and 167 square metres. The incorporation of listed building requirements with the objectives of a sustainable energy use in accordance with the KfW 70 Standard, and in a mixed-use building collective, was a demanding task for planners and owners alike.

Courageous pioneers

Neue Burg in Wolfsburg Detmerode, KSP Jürgen Engel Architekten, Photo: Jürgen Voss

Innovative projects like these, creative ideas and courageous pioneers are so important for breathing life into sustainable construction. The fact that current energy related requirements and living expectations can sometimes only be implemented through a combination of downsizing, conversion and refurbishment is well demonstrated in the “Neue Burg“ project in Wolfsburg Detmerode. In 2011 the architects KSP Jürgen Engel and the landscape architects and urban developers nsp Landschaftsarchitekten stadtplaner bdla/dwb carefully redeveloped the former showpiece district of the nineteen sixties and seventies for a mixed residence with a particular emphasis on design requirements for the future. Besides being distinguished by the German Energy Agency (dena) for its outstanding energy balance and efficiency this project was also awarded the Quality Label for Safe Housing of the Ministry of Social Affairs. Sustainable architecture is a field of many facets. Technical details are just one of these and do not always have to play the decisive role.
Ute Maasberg
is a curator and publicist. She lives in Braunschweig.

Translation: Sally Habel
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Internet-Redaktion
April 2012

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