Building with wood will be a key theme at Ecobuild 2010 - the world’s leading sustainable design and construction event – held in London from March 2-4.
For the first time Switzerland will showcase five innovative companies of varying size and experience in the Swiss Pavilion.
The Swiss exhibitors have been looking to establish a presence in the British construction market for some time and are driven by an ambition to achieve maximum energy savings in buildings.
Despite tough economic conditions, interest in sustainable design and construction continues to rise, along with the demand for information and eco-friendly products.
Wood-based products are growing in popularity and feature strongly at this year’s event.
Renggli, which has been a driving force in the timber business for almost 90 years, will be showcasing its portfolio in the Swiss hub. Confident there is room for new and innovative construction models for sustainable development in Britain, the family-run timber frame manufacturer for prefabricated buildings recently set up office in central London.
British Managing Director Helge Hansen is looking forward to the challenge of introducing their brand of industrial wood manufacture. “At the moment nobody does this sort of prefabricated construction in a factory.” he told swissinfo.ch.
“That’s why we see a chance to introduce new knowledge and technology into Britain.”
Timber housing is an integral part of the Swiss tradition of quality and durability and has long been an inspiration to builders who want to work in harmony with their environment. In the last hundred years these age-old techniques have made significant advances, making Switzerland a leader in timber technology designed in cutting-edge styles.
But why Britain? And why now? The British government is committed to building new homes and has set out an ambitious plan for the building sector.
Last summer, at the launch of the Building Britain’s Future strategy, Prime Minister Gordon Brown confirmed an injection of £1.5 billion (SFr2.49 billion) to deliver an additional 20,000 new affordable energy-efficient homes over the next couple of years.
The country will also lead the way in sustainable living as every newly built home will be required by law to have zero-carbon emissions by 2016.
Thorsten Terweiden, head of the Swiss Business Hub UK, is confident there are now significant market opportunities for Swiss small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) active in sustainable products, services and technology.
“It is clear to everybody too few houses have been built here in past years, so there is a huge backlog.” he said.
“Switzerland’s strength lies in timber construction and a lot of time, money and effort has been invested in the last decades to improve the material and technique of how eco-friendly houses can be built.”
Bricks and mortar
Although there is a general consensus Britain could offer a range of new opportunities for Swiss firms active in sustainable development, there are still challenges ahead, especially for those in prefabricated timber frame construction.
The steel and concrete lobby is very powerful here. Traditionally Britain builds with bricks and mortar.
The wooden prefabricated house may have had a renaissance in recent years, but for many it is still synonymous with cheap and ugly mobile homes.
“There’s still a perception here that timber frame constructions are poor quality, prone to water leakages and dampness,” said Terweiden.
“We first need to educate the public, because the Swiss timber construction industry has invested greatly in developing techniques to ensure buildings are fully waterproof.”
A zero-carbon Britain
As tough new green standards take effect, Terweiden is convinced the Swiss can lead the way offering better insulated walls, windows, ceilings and floors to meet proposed new energy efficiency standards,
“The Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Testing and Research (Empa) have looked at the air quality inside the rooms after [timber] buildings have been constructed,” he said. “And the houses are free from any pollutant emissions. It’s tested and proven.“
The Swiss hub at the Ecobuild trade fair and the companies represented there will also be promoting Switzerland’s internationally recognised Minergie standard - awarded for energy efficient construction - which Terweiden says “is in line with, and in some cases even exceeds, the building code here in Britain”.
Renggli's Hansen understands the challenges ahead and has a strong argument to sway any negative feelings towards modern day prefabs.
“We can have a highly-insulated structure in place in a matter of days, whereas standard brick buildings take a couple of months,” he said.
“And as regulation tightens in advance of the 2016 zero-carbon policy, our green technologies, like ground-sourced heat pumps and photovoltaic (pv) panels, will meet government targets and could still save householders up to 20 per cent on their annual utility bills.”
Andrew Littlejohn in London, swissinfo.ch
Switzerland is highly regarded internationally over sustainability, particularly in the building sector.
The Swiss Minergie standard is a registered quality label for new and refurbished low-energy structures.
Building to Minergie standards depends on a twofold strategy of insulation and renewable energy.
More than 14,000 buildings in Switzerland now reportedly carry the Minergie certificate.
A Minergie standard household reportedly consumes 60% less energy than conventional Swiss buildings.
The trade fair has almost doubled in size every year since its launch in 2005.
Close to 900 exhibitors and 40,000 visitors are expected during the 3-day event.
The four exhibitors alongside Renggli AG in the Swiss pavilion represent all corners of the country:
Gramitech is based in French-speaking Orbe and is showcasing insulation panels made from grass, which are considered equal to or better than today’s common, non-renewable products.
Ecolistic in canton Thurgau specialises in drainage and water neutralisation systems for construction sites and is promoting one of their best known products – the KippCleaner - a small-scale skip, which separates solid and liquid components in industrial waste water.
n’H Akustik + Design will present its leading brand of timber slatted and perforated acoustic panels, which have been installed in concert halls, conference rooms and lecture theatres in over 50 countries.
Finally, Just Swiss comprises of a group of innovative Swiss timber construction, design and planning companies providing clients with a variety of high quality building construction services.