There’s thinking outside the box. Then there is exploding the box, leaving no trace of it behind. Snøhetta, an architecture and design firm headquartered in Oslo, Norway, in collaboration with Skanska & Asplan Viak, has created an 11 story office building for R8 Property in Porsgrunn that defies every architectural convention you can think of. But the biggest news of all is Powerhouse Telemark, an 8,500 square meter office building that is energy positive.
Part of that involves energy efficiency. You can make more energy or you can use less of it. The company says Powerhouse Telemark will use 70% less energy than a conventional building of similar size. Snøhetta calculates the building will produce more energy than it will require over its entire lifespan, including the energy used in construction and even during its eventual demolition in decades to come.
At a time when the outgoing president of the United States is mocking efforts to make the built environment more energy efficient, Powerhouse Telemark is a testament to the power of creative thinking, which explains why it has received the BREEAM Excellent award. BREEAM is the world’s leading sustainability assessment method for master planning projects, infrastructure, and buildings. It recognizes and reflects the value in higher performing assets across the built environment lifecycle, from new construction to in-use and refurbishment.
“BREEAM does this through third party certification of the assessment of an asset’s environmental, social and economic sustainability performance, using standards developed by BRE. This means BREEAM rated developments are more sustainable environments that enhance the well-being of the people who live and work in them, help protect natural resources and make for more attractive property investments.”
In a press release, Snøhetta says, “As part of the Powerhouse series, Powerhouse Telemark sets a new standard for the construction of environmentally sustainable buildings by reducing its yearly net energy consumption by 70 percent compared to similar new-construction offices, and by producing more energy than it will consume over its entire lifespan. Through standardized interior solutions and co-working spaces, tenants can scale their office spaces as needed, granting much needed flexibility in a global context where remote working solutions continue to increase in demand.
“The energy sector and building industry account for over 40 percent of global industry’s heat-trapping emissions combined. As the world’s population and the severity of the climate crisis continue to grow, precipitating global disruptions such as the COVID-19 pandemic, architects are challenged to work across industries to build more responsibly.”
The people at Snøhetta certainly rose to that challenge. This is the fourth Powerhouse completed by the firm and its most ambitious design. “In obtaining the BREEAM Excellent certification as proof of their bold sustainability ambitions, Powerhouses stand as beacons of sustainable design not only in their local communities, but also function as models for how the world can embrace sustainable architecture and design at large in the future,” the company says. “Just like its ambitious sister projects Powerhouse Kjørbo, Powerhouse Montessori and Powerhouse Brattørkaia, Powerhouse Telemark aspires to be model for environmentally, socially and economically sustainable architecture, while also challenging our conception of what our offices might look like in the post COVID-19 era.”
Kjetil Trædal Thorsen, founding partner of Snøhetta, explains the design philosophy embraced by his firm. “In striving to keep our planet as healthy as possible, we must take this moment to prioritize sustainable design practices, and specifically consider how our work impacts human and non-human inhabitants alike. Although the gradual violence of the climate crisis might seem less acute compared to the rapid effects of viruses such as COVID-19, especially for those living in the global north, we as architects have a stake in the protection of our built and unbuilt environments. We need more industry wide alliances such as Powerhouse to push industry standards for what is means to build sustainable buildings and cities, both on an economic, social and environmental scale.”
How did Snøhatte create a net positive building? One way was to optimize the angle and size of the roof for the solar panels mounted to it, which meant extending the roof beyond the footprint of the foundation of the building. More solar panels were installed on the south facing facade of the building as well. It is expected the building will generate about 260,000 kWh of electricity each year. Any excess electricity will be sold back to the local grid.
Beyond that, the building is super insulated with triple isolated windows throughout. Concrete slabs give the building a density similar to that of a stone structure — storing thermal heat during the day and slowly emitting heat during the evening. A low energy heating and cooling system with water loops in the border zones of each floor assures that the building is efficiently cooled and heated and uses geothermal wells dug 350 meters below ground.
Standardization is the key to the interior design, which reduce unnecessary waste as new tenants move into the building. The flooring, glass walls, office dividers, kitchenettes, lighting, and bathrooms have been given the same design, color, and materials throughout. To reduce the need for artificial lighting to an absolute minimum, the building has a conservative but efficient lighting system. The interior of the building features sturdy materials known for resilience and low energy needs — local wood, gypsum, and environmental concrete which is left exposed and untreated. The wooden flooring is made from industrial parquet derived from wood debris.
Powerhouse Telemark also utilizes a series of low tech solutions to ensure tenant comfort is prioritized. Its gently skewed west facing and southeast facing exterior walls allow for maximum daylight and shading while also creating exciting exterior views and flexible indoor spaces. Throughout the building, small secluded spaces are strategically moved away from sun exposed exterior walls to reduce the need for cooling while keeping them comfortable for the building’s occupants.
Snøhetta is an international firm with offices in New York, Innsbruck, San Francisco, Paris, Hong Kong, and Adelaide. Check out its website to see more of the stunning designs it has created for is international clients, including “Under.” Europe’s first underwater restaurant. If this is what sustainable architecture looks like, the future is very bright indeed.