You can erect and use a building without having any negative impact on the environment. Really? Is that possible? Yes, it certainly is. Even today. For the first time, the DGNB bestowed its new Climate Positive award on eleven projects at the Expo Real 2019 trade show. We spoke to the designers, architects and users of the award-winning buildings.
There’s a lot of variety in the flagship projects that attracted the award, ranging from schools to logistics buildings and a city hall. But they all have one thing in common: they have a negative annual carbon footprint. In other words, by producing energy themselves and exporting zero-emission energy, bottom line they save more emissions than they actually use. This ability to add value beyond the site makes them a role model of building quality and future-proof solutions. The buildings also demonstrate what this sector of industry is already capable of today in terms of climate action – they show ‘how it’s done’.
Some simple tips for buildings: use wood and keep it low-tech
One example of how it’s done comes from architect Philipp Leube of F64. His architectural firm was responsible for the planning and development of the Elobau industrial building, including a production hall and offices in Probstzella and the Elobau logistics building in Leutkirch. Both projects used a lot of wood. “Wood constantly binds carbon dioxide. So if you build with wood, you already start with a positive cumulative energy balance. Add energy-positive consumption to the equation and it’s actually not that difficult to hit targets.”
Interview with Philipp Leube on Elobau building (in German)
These benefits offered by timber construction were also exploited by Frank Schwindling of Augsburg district council. His department was responsible for the biggest wooden grammar school in Europe: Schmuttertal Gymnasium in Diedorf.
Markus Krauss from Transsolar was one of the planners of the local Volksbank branch in Kirchheimbolanden. He offers another tip, which also contradicts the commonly held perception that sustainable building requires a lot of high tech: “What’s special about this bank branch is that it’s actually a low-tech building. It uses window ventilation and concrete core activation, and it generates energy efficiently by using heat pumps and detectors. Basically, that’s it.” Krauss calls for more ‘everyday common sense’ in planning.
The decisive difference: people who use the building feel comfortable
What these projects show is that being ‘climate-positive’ goes hand in hand with wellbeing. For Philipp Leube, the most important aspects of a building in terms of sustainability are the standards of design and the quality of indoor and outdoor spaces. In specific terms, this is reflected in factors such as air quality. According to Bankwitz, also an architect, the air quality in the Eisbärhaus in Kirchheim unter Teck is so good that allergy-sufferers feel comfortable inside the building. As a user of the combined residential and office building himself, he speaks from experience.
Interview with Matthias Bankwitz on Eisbärhaus building (in German)
If it’s climate-positive, it’s also economical
Climate protection may be important for a building, but economic factors are also crucial for the commissioners and owners of a building if they want it to be climate-positive. This is highlighted by Prof. Michael Bauer of Drees & Sommer. Bauer and his team worked on the development of Freiburg City Hall: “We successfully demonstrated that within seven to ten years we could make a building profitable by using solar panels, ground water and an extremely effective heat-insulated facade – and that was just breaking the ice.” As well as reaping rewards by running its own efficient ‘mini power station’, last year the City of Freiburg also won the DGNB’s annual award for sustainable building.
Interview with Michael Bauer on Freiburg City Hall (in German)
The future of building is looking climate-positive
During the Expo Real discussion forums, our colleague Dr Anna Brown used her time to gather views from representatives of politics, the property industry, local authorities and engineering firms on climate-positive buildings. Can we still hit the zero carbon footprint target for existing buildings by 2050? In what ways does the property industry have a role to play? And what can politicians do to help? You can hear answers to these and a number of other questions in the following panel. One thing everyone agrees on is that ‘going climate-positive’ is the right thing to do and everyone needs to pull together.
Panel on climate-positive buildings (in German)