Leon Gettler | December 2014
Two weeks ago I did a blog looking at why Germany is a leader in sustainability. But Germany is also well ahead the rest of the world when it comes to building technology, creating some of the world’s best green buildings.
How so? Because the German government has taken a leadership role in sustainability. Germany has adopted comprehensive regulations on building energy efficiency.
Take the Multi, a magnet-propelled elevator concept that in addition to moving up and down can also go sideways. Why is that important? It will revolutionise skyscraper design. Because elevators that just go up and down are not particularly efficient, because you put a lot of energy into lifting the cables that the elevator is attached to, and it’s not particularly versatile, because the cable restricts your potential directions of movement.
To solve both of these problems at once, you need a completely new non-cable propulsion system for your elevator. Something futuristic. The Multi uses a technology called magnetic levitation to move multiple elevator cars along the same shaft without the need for wires and cables. Wait times for elevators can thus be drastically reduced, and the ability to move the cars in almost all directions could let architects stretch their design innovation.
The Multi’s cabins are smaller. That means fewer people are transported per car. But they move more people in the same amount of time as traditional elevators since cars come every 15 to 30 seconds. The Multi elevator is set to begin testing sometime in 2016, and German innovation company Thyssen Krupp hopes to have a fully operational prototype running in its test tower in Germany by the end of 2016.
German company Seele is also involved in developing intelligent building shells which come fitted with a patented, self-conditioning pressure compensation system. It’s a system that ensures passive ventilation through interaction with the external climate. It creates a glass sandwich element façade that offers excellent heat and sound insulation and protects from the sun.
Another innovation is PassivHaus, a German-born building performance standard that strives to achieve a very comfortable ultra-low energy building that requires little or no energy for space heating or cooling. It is catching on around the world. The world’s first Passivhaus public bathhouse and swimming pool just opened this month in Lünen, Germany. It pairs a super-efficient building shell with low-energy equipment, captures waste energy, and offsets energy use with solar electric panels. The 50 per cent energy reduction translates to a whopping projected savings of €193,000 ($A283,519) each year. Bernward Bücheler of Passivhaus Australia now lays claim to having built Australia’s first certified PassivHaus, a single storey partly underground residence in South Australia designed by Max Pritchard Architects. Passivhaus is super-insulated and allows no drafts.
There are also radical buildings like the five-storey Bio Intelligent Quotient (B.I.Q.) in Hamburg which is actually a vertical algae farm that generates heat, as well as revenue, from growing the micro-organism. The algae are fed liquid nutrients and carbon dioxide to spur growth. Pressurised air is pumped into the panels to further increase growth and prevent the micro-organisms from settling down and causing rot. Scrubbers in the panels automatically keep the glass clean.
The panels double as solar thermal collectors to convert sunlight into usable energy. The part of the light that is not absorbed by the algae for the photosynthesis is converted into heat which can be used immediately for hot water or stored in the building’s underground geothermal system.
Periodically, the algae is collected and stockpiled in tanks in the building. A local energy company then buys the harvest and transport the biomass to a nearby heat and power plant, where it undergoes fermentation. The process produces methane gas to generate electricity.
One of the best examples of innovation is the Reichstag, the home of Germany’s parliament, which produces its own energy. According to Bloomberg, the chamber is capped by a giant dome and inside the dome is a cone-shaped “light sculpture” made of 360 mirrors, extending from the apex of the cupola down into the heart of the chamber 75 feet below.
The cone funnels sunlight throughout the building. A bank of solar panels, seamlessly embedded in the roof, powers a swivelling metal shade that reduces glare by tracking the sun’s path and filtering its harshest rays. There’s also a co-generator in the Reichstag’s basement.
Powered by rapeseed oil, it produces both electricity and heat. Heat from electrical generation is usually dumped into the environment and lost forever. But excess heat from this co-generator is pumped into a natural aquifer nearly a thousand feet underground, where it is easily reclaimed to warm the building in winter. The Reichstag generates half of all the electricity it consumes, and gets the rest from renewable sources offsite, making it the greenest parliament in the world.
The fact that it’s the Reichstag tells the world that Germany’s politicians are champions of sustainability.
Then there is the Institute for Lightweight Structures and Conceptual Design (ILEK) at the University of Stuttgart which just unveiled a concept home that is not just net zero — it’s actually designed to generate excess energy to charge electric cars within its futuristic carport
Germany has also pioneered some amazing innovations in solar housing
There is for example the Solarsiedlung or Solar Estate located in Frieburg, on the western edge of the southern Black Forest. It is one of the warmest and sunniest regions of Germany with approximately 1800 hours of sunshine per year. It features “plus” energy houses. That is, they produce more energy than they consume.
By using full benefit of passive solar heating, more insulation than even the typical German home, and an extended roof of solar photovoltaics, these houses create a surplus of electricity.
As reported here, the settlement at Schlierberg, close to the Vauban area, isabout three kilometres from the city centre of Freiburg. On the site of the former French Vauban barracks, there are 2000 flats and community needs facilities for approximately 5000 people. It has been in existence since 1997.
The building strategies there include reducing the number of cars, sustainable water management, energy-conscious construction, building waste management, promotion of joint building projects and cooperative building and the design of a cooperative planning process.
And the Germans are exporting their know-how. The German architecture firm Ingenhoven designed 1 Bligh Street in Sydney. It’s so innovative. As reported here, the large space is open and ribbed with each level following the perimeter the building. The curves and flow of the floors echo the organic form of an upended whale allowing the imagination to soar all 28 floors or ribs. The central balconies form the spine and look like vertebrae while the glass lifts shoot up and down like corpuscles in the vascular system.
The waste water treatment and recycling system can reduce water consumption with an efficiency of up to 90 per cent and has a capability to recycle much more than just the waste water produced within the building. The building is the first high-rise tower to receive the highest six star certificate of the Australian Green Star environmental rating system.
There is so much we can learn from Germany about creating green buildings. When it comes to sustainability, the Germans are showing us it’s just a matter of good design.