Impressive Green Building Design Insights from the Transsolar Symposium in Stuttgart
Stuttgart’s large Theaterhaus drew 300 people from Germany, Austria, Switzerland, the UK, Canada, the US and various other countries for an incredibly dynamic all-day symposium on June 29th, 2012.
The host company was the German building/climate engineering firm, Transsolar which also provided the naturally ventilated design for the Theaterhaus venue. Transsolar is best known in North America for the recent Manitoba Hydro Place building in Winnipeg. In the worst climate in North America, Manitoba Hydro Place shows a measured total energy use of 110 kWh/sq.m./year (35,000 BTU/sq.ft./year) in a 22-story building housing 2000 corporate employees.
This was the 20th anniversary of Transsolar’s green building symposium and this year’s theme was "Connect Ideas. Maximize Impact." As you will see from the highlights summarized below, this theme clearly expressed the symposium’s intent which was to make the next 20 years of our industry’s green building work one that takes all the lessons learned from sustainable design initiatives of the past 20 years and puts them into action around the world. In this way, the expressed goals of the recent "failed" Rio+20 conference can be realized by designers in the field.
Among the better known designers were Matthias Sauerbruch of Berlin’s Sauerbruch/Hutton Architects, Stefan Behnisch of Behnisch Architects, Stuttgart; Thomas Auer and Matthias Schuler of Transsolar; Steven Holl of Steven Holl Architects, New York; Bruce Kuwabara of KMPB Architects, Toronto; and Herbert Dreiseitl of Atelier Dreiseitl, Überlingen (Germany) and Singapore.
Throughout the symposium, I offered Tweets including photos via http://www.twitter.com/jerryyudelson
Here are some of the green building insights that I found the most valuable or provocative:
- If design leads by example, where are the great examples of sustainable design with "Max Green," people-friendly AND low energy results? We need these to define for this era as others did for earlier eras such examples as the Eiffel Tower and Pompidou Center in Paris and the Hong Kong Shanghai Bank.
- Stefan Behnisch: "Design transports ideas" and makes them into reality, so while great ideas can be particular to an individual or country, design can make them available to all.
- Steven Holl cited the example of Tianjin Eco-City that may house up to 1 million people and get its energy from a geothermal (district) loop. Holl said that "great architecture has always been marginal" (when created) and that what is important is the "poetic dimension" of the work. This reminded me of the English poet Shelley’s dictum that "poets are the unacknowledged legislators of mankind."
- Greg Lynn of Greg Lynn FORM, Los Angeles, spoke of the value of innovation as expressed in logistics, materials, upcycling and minimalism. The best way to ensure longevity of structures and materials is to create value from new materials, using a "voluptuous functionalism."
- Bruce Kuwabara spoke of the problems of designing sustainable cities in North America, where we didn’t have the same economic problems as Europe during the oil crises of the 1970s. He said that "architecture is a powerful reflection of Civilization" and answers (like it or not) the question of how we want to live together.
- Herbert Dreiseitl spoke of Singapore’s new "ABC Water Design Guidelines" as heralding a new way for water-stressed areas to plan for a sustainable water future. Dreiseitl said that "ecological waterscapes should be common sense," so that everyone can understand and interact with them, especially in crowded cities.
- Alfredo Brillembourg of Zürich’s Urban Think Tank drew our attention powerfully to the issues of poverty and ecological degradation in "informal cities" of the Majority World. (No longer the Third World, this is where most of the world’s people will live in 2050.)
- Federico Parolotto of MIC in Milan gave an impressive presentation on how small design changes can greatly improve mobility and provide pedestrian/bicycle travel in even the most congested cities. He noted that "every public transport user is also a pedestrian" at some point during his/her travels.
- Rahul Mehrotra of RMA in Mumbai, spoke of three themes: the Majority World, whose needs are so different from the G-8 countries and the need for sustainability to consider much more than the needs of developers, to whom he referred as "impatient capital." He also said we need more Grand Adjustments, rather than "Grand Visions."
- Daniel Dendra of anOtherArchitect in Berlin said that "data is the new oil and we need to learn how to refine it" for sustainable design. There will be 5 billion Internet users by 2020, about three times today, and they will be generating Terabytes of data daily, if not hourly. How can designers take all this data into account and make information out of it to generate sustainable designs more relevant to world needs?
- Mick Pearce, an architect with offices in Harare, Zimbabwe, and Shenzhen, "form follows process" and that we should be taking our designs from adaptive structures in nature that are all based on (my interpretation) using a minimal amount of energy to accomplish our needs. He pointed out that a tree is a process, not an object, with its form deriving from its processes of turning water, minerals and solar energy into enduring structures, fruits, oil, etc., and that our buildings should emulate trees in this respect.
- Perhaps the highlight in a way was a generational baton-passing from Jörg Schlaich, a well respected engineer in his 70s based in Stuttgart, whose proposals for getting 100% of our energy needs from solar power generation in the world’s deserts date back more than 25 years. He also gave the example of how he successfully changed designs to accommodate the skills and construction practices of local workers to build large bridges over rivers in Bangladesh in the 1970s.
- This same notion was echoed by Dr. Winfried Heusler of Schüco, a German manufacturer, of how the company needs to change its façade designs when in moves out of Central Europe, even into the US, because local labor and construction practices cannot accommodate tight tolerances the way it can be done in Germany.
- Khaled Awad of Grenea in Beirut spoke of his experience designing Masdar City in Abu Dhabi, UAE, as showing how future developments should think about integrating revenue flows from local food production; renewable power generation; waste management; and community services such as transportation, to bring about economic resiliency. This can only happen through "industrializing construction" through such approaches as modular housing, not trying to do each building unique.
- Sadhu Johnston of the City of Vancouver (BC), formerly of Chicago, held out four guiding principles for "decarbonating" existing cities: demystify the work; amplify the message; share examples; and use students in large measure to do studio work to leverage professionals.
All in all, this was a powerful series of lessons for me and just a few of the many great reasons to visit Stuttgart again!
Bottom line take-away: we all have to consider how we can have "maximum impact" to fully institute sustainability thinking and sustainable design everywhere on the planet by 2020.
What’s your 2020 vision?