Understanding and optimising a building in its entirety, creating an aesthetically pleasing and functional company headquarters, making bicycles synonymous with a trendy way of life, living sustainably, driving his business forward – these are the goals entrepreneur Dirk Zedler wanted to achieve with a single construction project. Building the headquarters for Zedler Fahrradwelt is a project, which makes use of the DGNB Sustainability Certificate for Buildings In Use to create an interconnected, sustainable building.
“I have always wanted to organise my business in a sustainable way,” says Dirk Zedler. He is sitting in his company headquarters, the Zedler Fahrradwelt, on the outskirts of Ludwigsburg, a small town north of Stuttgart, which is better known for its baroque palace. “What I never wanted was to embed sustainability as a rigid module. In my opinion, it should be a kind of filter across everything. Only in this way will a business be sustainable and not sustainability a business in itself”. Now that his company headquarters has achieved top marks and a platinum rating according to the DGNB Sustainability Certificate for Buildings In Use and has also been awarded the “Climate Positive” status, he wants to take stock and reflect. How did Zedler and his company get to this point?
Where to start?
The story begins in 2014. Then, Dirk Zedler occupied a rented building and is dissatisfied. His organisation tests and inspects bicycles with regard to durability, safety and user-friendliness, collates expert opinions and damage analyses as well as technical documentation such as operating instructions and risk analyses. Bicycle manufacturers and developers as well as courts and insurance companies from all over the world are customers. The company had a high energy consumption due to its laboratories used for testing, in which numerous machines are usually running at full capacity. At the same time, the indoor climate of the building was poor. Although he already ran the company on electricity from hydropower and was experimenting with principles of energy conversion by using a heat exchanger, he realised that he wanted a fundamental change. But where to start?
As a first step, he commissioned a Bachelor’s thesis on energy management in the company’s own laboratories. Zedler quickly decides, that he wants to create his own building. The building should be tailor-made to meet his sustainability and energy focused requirements, while meeting the requirements of employees, customers and visitors by being aesthetically pleasing. For Zedler it’s about creating an unconditionally sustainable building, not about playing off balance sheets against each other.
He chooses Kelzenberg + Jahnke Architects, who offer qualifications and experience in the field of energy management. “Our office did a lot of preliminary work before starting on the actual design,” says architect Markus Kelzenberg. “We assessed the company’s previous set-up to ensure we captured and included requirements, wishes and ideas from all stakeholders in the project”.
The freedom of design
Harald Jahnke worked on the initial design, in close collaboration with Zedler, as part of the creative process. “We questioned decisions again and again, on occasions even rejecting what we had already decided. That was very intense but it was the only way to arrive at a design that is well structured, yet extremely versatile and that also considers every detail of the building’s diverse use “, Zedler reports. In 2016, the start of the actual buiding process was marked with a celebration for all involved so far.
The finished building is reminiscent of a pragmatically designed urban villa more than an industrial building. Fixed on a concrete skeleton, natural larch wood forms the outer cladding of the building. An extremely bright, expansive entrance over several floors opens the structure to the outside. The exterior theme is carried inside, where solid wood and concrete meet again and again, interrupted by large windows. The design offers the perfect backdrop for displaying bicycles and their component parts – here, it can be perceived and experienced as a true declaration of love to this great mode of transport. As bicycle wheels form part of all external windows, the whole building even looks, from a distance, like a beautiful display. Historic bicycle exhibits showcase their history and development: “My counterpart to the Porsche Museum”, laughs Zedler.
In the summer of 2017 operations started from the new Zedler company headquarters. But the initial euphoria gives way to disillusionment. The energy consumption is higher than expected and the quality of the indoor climate is less than ideal, despite good insulation and a ventilation system for the summer months: the building performed below expectations. Zedler is disappointed. What went wrong?
“At that time, I understood that although the installation of systems and technology is a prerequisite, they are not the be-all and end-all. Without the adequate controls and corresponding adjustments you will not reach your goals”. To work on improvements, Zedler focused on questions like: How exactly does which value arise? Which values are important at all? What is worth measuring?
Decision for certification by Buildings In Use
In order to create the necessary baseline, he decided to record and measure data across the entire building for a considerable amount of time. At each compressor an electricity meter was installed and the heat output of the heat exchangers was also recorded. Inputs and outputs of a cistern were recorded monthly. It was during this period that the idea of a DGNB Sustainability Certificate for Buildings In Use was born. Zedler registered his new company headquarters for the DGNB audit.
It wasn’t long before improvements and initial successes followed: “Many of our employees come to us by bike and take a shower here at the company headquarters. That’s why we have a high consumption of hot water in the morning. The time settings for reheating the water were not long enough for the heat exchangers. Therefore, every morning the heat pumps, and in extreme cases the heating rods in the hot water tank, started to produce to maximum capacity in order to produce what was needed in a very short period of time”, Zedler explains a first “aha” effect, “something like that is only noticeable when you measure continuously”.
“The learning curve was consistently high during the first three years of the building’s operation”, adds Lea Heinle, auditor of the project. “We benefited from the richness of the data collected over three years. I was surprised and fascinated by the complexity and interplay of the different data sizes and measures”.
Back to the start
By optimising continuously, many things changed within the building: “At that time, we practically adjusted the entire technical equipment”, Zedler remembers. “As soon as the building’s equipment and appliances were adjusted to account for actual use, the building’s dynamics fell into place with the architectural design and everything changed for the better”, the founder summarises.
“What also sparked my interest,” Heinle continues, “were the other qualities and benefits of the DGNB system. We could learn a lot, especially were economic performance and quality was concerned. The building performs above average in the ecological and socio-cultural criteria. This also includes the absence of varnish, paint and plaster. An integrated photovoltaic system drives Zedler’s test laboratories. Rainwater storage in the cistern for toilet flushing, bicycle cleaning and garden irrigation, gained Zedler additional points within the DGNB Certification System. “When it comes to recertification time, we also want to make it to the top in terms of economic qualities,” Heinle says, looking forward to the future.
An interconnected building
Today Dirk Zedler often welcomes students at the company headquarters. Together they explore the history of the bicycle and discuss the possibilities of green transportation. The topic of sustainability then arises automatically. “I try to explain to the pupils that in the field of sustainability everything is interconnected “, Zedler sums up, “often the students are surprised and at the same time enthusiastic about how versatile the topic is. I try to encourage them to gain new insights and perspectives on the topic of sustainability”.
Concerning his building, Zedler is continuing his journey. The company is growing. The entrepreneur is already thinking about modifications and adjustments to the building. Of course, in close cooperation with his architects. “I am sure that a lot will happen and I am looking forward to the future”, Zedler laughs, “because now I know: A building stands for lifelong learning!