Sustainably smart in construction

Can buildings help save the climate? Yes, smart buildings make a significant contribution to resource conservation and sustainability. Martin Aichholzer, Head of Master’s Degree Program Architecture - Green Building, equips the next generation of architects with extensive specialist expertise. In addition, in the research project Nach.Plan.Bauen. he networks all the actors in the construction industry and makes the complex topic more transparent. 

When it comes to sustainable building construction, terms like low-energy houses come up quickly. How else is sustainability defined in construction?

The energy consumed in operation has been the focus of the last 20 years, in my opinion this homework has been done, that is standard. Sustainable construction includes much more, with topics such as social sustainability, affordability and, above all, the reduction of resource consumption over the life cycle. Regenerative and circular processes and the consideration of the life cycle are essential in this.

Legal requirements are becoming increasingly strict. In Austria for example, all new buildings are to be designed as low-energy buildings starting with 2021. Is the construction industry well prepared for this change?

We have found that a lot of architects, civil engineers and clients are only familiar with partial aspects of sustainability and that it is not taken into consideration throughout every phase of a construction project. An example is how much garbage is still produced by Styrofoam facades, or the high use of concrete in building construction. For me, these are clear signals that there is still not enough awareness.

Together with a research team from the degree program Architecture - Green Building, you are developing the right tools for the job in the project Nach.Plan.Bauen. What does the project concern exactly?

In this project, as part of the MA 23 funding scheme, we are pursuing the goal of providing building companies from Vienna with higher qualifications and using the knowledge of the university directly for business. We are pursuing a bottom-up strategy and with the project are developing curricula for postgraduate training for architects, civil engineers and people who are not deeply involved in the planning phase of building projects. We are also focusing on training opportunities for developers of real estate projects and other decision-makers. 

The other level is to fill the knowledge gap, in the sense of a knowledge database. There are many research studies and other sources of information that we will prepare in a meaningful way for users in the industry and make them accessible on a knowledge platform.  

What steps have already been taken to achieve the research goal?

We have surveyed the need in discussion forums with participants from the construction industry, but unfortunately, due to Covid, we have only been able to conduct one interview so far. An extensive online survey, direct interviews and research results in the context of diploma theses would also be important sources of information. This all serves as a basis for the curricula creation. The training courses are planned for next spring. The experience from the first course will help optimize the next course. The research for the platform is also quite far along, and the content is currently also being prepared. 

Nach.Plan.Bauen as a knowledge platform in Austria will be giving sustainability a powerful boost, but I hear you already have another international project in the starting blocks? 

The Erasmus+ HiBiWood project focuses on timber construction as a resource-saving type of construction. It concerns a lively exchange of knowledge with countries such as Lithuania, Latvia, Poland and together we are working to develop curricula for training at universities of applied sciences and universities. Wood is the only renewable material that can be used in building construction and, in combination with other renewable building materials, also has the great advantage of very efficiently binding CO2 from the atmosphere. 

As a multi-award-winning architect in the field of timber construction, you are very active as a speaker interna­tionally, for example at the International Passive House Conference in China in November 2019. What were your impressions? 

Very strong. On the one hand, the Chinese strategy of only building in the passive house standard by 2050 is impressive. Moving away from coal as an energy source and air pollutant, these standards will be created in no time. What I found less positive was the fact that satellite cities are shooting up with hardly any social facilities. There are hardly any urban places for social exchange, only island buildings separated from one another by fallow land.

As the Head of the degree program, what would you like to impart to your students in particular concerning sustainability?

Critical thinking and always looking at the whole picture. For example, there is no point in optimizing a building in terms of energy consumption if it stands alone, without sustainable transportation connections. The lack of a transport concept would render everything else pointless. As part of the lecture series "Attitude Issues", we very consciously invite national and international architects to show their approaches based on current building projects. This provides a diverse picture of sustainable construction and the students can thus sharpen their own opinions.

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Bachelor’s Degree Program Architecture – Green Building