Buildings for the future

27 March 2020

It is astonishing that buildings have so rarely been discussed in the climate change debate so far. Indeed, the ecological burden generated from our built environment is overwhelming.

Buildings for the future

It has been almost 40 years since the scientific environmental study ‘Global 2000’, commissioned by US President Jimmy Carter, triggered mass demonstrations around the world and made climate protection a permanent fixture on the political agenda. As a result, industrial chimneys were provided with filter systems, cars received catalytic converters, the depletion of wood as a resource was stopped and new energy-saving concepts were developed. The share of renewable energy in the powersupply is growing steadily, the days of the combustion engine seem to be numbered and people are increasingly questioning their consumption patterns but climate change still continues at breathtaking speed. So, now is the time to truly put all areas of our lives to the test. This includes the self-created habitat in which we spend most of our time: buildings

The world needs better buildings

It is astonishing that buildings have so rarely been discussed in the climate change debate so far. Indeed, the ecological burden generated from our built environment is overwhelming. According to the Federal Environmental Agency, around 35 percent of final energy consumption and around 30 percent of CO2 emissions in Germany are produced by buildings. Without appropriate countermeasures, the Stiftung Mercator has calculated that measured values could double or even triple worldwide by 2050; and this will occur simply through the fact that more and more people from poorer regions will finally gain access to adequate housing and electricity. It is therefore urgent that we significantly improve the eco-balance of our buildings in order to stop climate change. In this regard, new technologies offer us many options:

  • Activation of facades with photovoltaic power generation
  • Reduction of heat loss through appropriate building insulation
  • Avoidance of unnecessary heating and cooling resources by means of sensory room utilization
  • Energy savings through optimal daylight usage
  • Reduction of CO2 emissions through alternative forms of heating, such as heat storage pumps or gas boilers in combination with solar thermal systems

In line with our declared corporate goal of providing the world with better buildings, all of these measures for improving the energy efficiency of buildings are being implemented by EDGE and are continuously being optimised. However, in order to reduce CO2emissions on a large scale, it is necessary to begin upstream. Namely already in the material nature of new buildings or, more precisely, in the way we process concrete. After all, between 5 and 8 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions are due to cement production.

Concrete – a blessing and a curse

Concrete can look back on a very long and successful history. Even 14,000 years ago, mortar mixtures of quicklime were being used in eastern Turkey. 3,000 years ago, the Phoenicians came up with the idea of adding volcanic rock to this mortar. And finally,2,000 years ago, the Romans began producing pressure-resistant components made of water-resistant mortar and pieces of stone, hardened by formwork. The durability of this ‘Opus Caementitium’ can still be admired today, for example on such impressive buildings as the Coliseum or the Pantheon in Rome. After the fall of the Roman Empire, however, this amazing building material was forgotten. Its modern triumph began with its rediscovery around 1700. One hundred years later, the first precast concrete elements were produced, and in 1849 French gardener Joseph Monier invented the archetype of reinforced concrete -originally only to stabilize his flower pots.

Since then, not only has concrete production evolved continuously but distribution of the building material has also steadily increased. After water, concrete is the most widely used substance on earth. No wonder, given that the material is inexpensive and also enables the reduction of construction costs thanks to prefabrication. According to calculationsmade by the California Institute of Technology, 76.2 billion tons of cement were produced worldwide from 1930 to 2013 alone, 70 percent of which was for the production of concrete. However, 38.2 billion tonnes of CO2were also released into the atmosphere. The global construction boom of recent years is further increasing these numbers. If the cement industry were a state, today it would be the third largest carbon dioxide emitter worldwide after China and the USA, producing up to 2.8 billion tons. The Global Commission on Economic and Climate Affairs forecasts that the construction sector will emit another 470 billion tonnes of CO2 worldwide by 2050.

Reversal through wood hybrid construction

Despite the alarming prognoses, knowledge about the climate-damaging side effects of concrete production is slow in its dissemination. It is only in the last few years that research institutes and concrete producers have begun experimenting with alternative production methods in order to reduce CO2emissions during production. Today, in order to significantly improve the eco-balance of new buildings, a fundamental rethink is needed. The key question is: How can we reduce the amount of concrete used? The answer is astonishingly simple: By combining concrete with a building material that is not only fully recyclable, but also renewable -wood.

For this purpose, Austrian start-up company Cree has developed a modular wood-hybrid system that makes it possible to radically reduce the amount of concrete used, meaning that only one fifth of the usual amount of CO2pollution is generated. With this system, even 30-storey high-rise buildings with a height of up to 100 meters can be realised without any problems. Wood and concrete share the loads. Although wood-hybrid buildings are currently still somewhat more expensive than conventional concrete buildings, the modular construction method shortens the construction time on site. 

“With the oldest building material in the world, we are building modern and smartoffice buildings for working environments of today, tomorrow and the future. Individual and yet modular –this is not a contradiction for us”, emphasises Andreas Schimmelpfennig, Managing Director of Cree Deutschland GmbH

EDGE Suedkreuz Berlin Pilot Project

EDGE has recognised the opportunity presented by this innovative design style and is now building the largest wood-hybrid project to date in Germany with EDGE Suedkreuz. The building complex, with a total floor area of 32,000 square metres, will be built in trend-setting architectural style in the emerging business area near the railway station Berlin Südkreuz and will eventually accommodate the headquarters of energy provider giant Vattenfall. 

The forward-thinking technological facilities and area planning of EDGE Suedkreuz are consistently focused on creating healthier, more efficient working conditions for users, as well as assuming ecological responsibility. In this context, the wood hybrid construction also demonstrates its advantages by contributing to a sustainably healthy indoor climate. Above all, however, thanks to the intelligent combination of wood with concrete, the CO2-emissions resulting from the manufacture of the shell are reduced by up to 80 percent per square meterof floorspace compared to the conventional reinforced concrete construction method. Accordingly, EDGE Suedkreuz has already been pre-certified with DGNB Platinum. WELL Core Gold is the desired certification

Our climate – our responsibility

Forty years after the alarming ‘Global 2000’ study, 16-year-old environmental activist Greta Thunberg has launched a student strike movement under the motto ‘Fridays For Future’ in order to thrust the urgency of climate change back into our consciousness. Her message: We must act now. At all levels and everybody on those levels, wherever they can have an influence. For EDGE, this means contributing to the improvement of the life-cycle assessment of buildings with each new construction project, using all available means. We are committed to this responsibility and, with the creation of EDGE Suedkreuz using a wood hybrid construction, we are convinced that we have taken another decisive step towards a better life in better buildings.

Source: EDGE

Recent Articles

Platinum Partners