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Green architect receives golden honour

Green offices in canton Fribourg designed by Conrad Lutz Minergie/C. Cuendet

Environmentally conscious architect Conrad Lutz was one of the winners in the "Watt d'Or" awards, which are presented annually to Switzerland's best energy projects.

This content was published on January 14, 2008 - 15:07

Lutz, who took a prize in the building category, is one of the pioneers of putting ecology and sustainable development into architecture.

The Federal Energy Office, which makes the awards, decided to honour the recipients of its "energy Oscars" with a glamorous ceremony earlier this month in the Swiss capital, Bern.

"This honorary prize awards the ability of people and organisations working along the same lines as our energy policy to innovate for the future," said Walter Steinmann, head of the Energy Office and jury member, at the event.

This year seven projects - out of the 19 submitted – were awarded a "Watt d'Or", by a jury made up of prominent figures from the science, political and economic worlds.

The ceremony, sponsored privately, included a buffet, a concert and the presentation of trophies in front of the who's who of the energy world in Switzerland.

Among the sea of dark suits a handful of less conventional, bearded types could be spotted and even one or two women.

Radical

Fribourg-based Lutz was honoured for his "Green Offices" project, which obtained the first ever Minergie-P-Eco label, a highly stringent Swiss energy standard.

The architect could not contain his satisfaction at having his "radical" ideas recognised. "In 1973 I was in the middle of studying and those weekends without a car and the oil crisis really stuck in my mind," he said.

It was during this time that he came up with his first building, which demonstrated that insulation was financially viable.

"This was the start of my journey into ecology and sustainable development. At the time people called us every name under the sun, but history has proved us right. Today we all have to pay attention to energy," said Lutz, who has his own architecture office.

The Green Offices project in Fribourg shows that it is possible to construct a building with a low environmental impact and at little cost. The three-storey building offers 1,300 square metres of office space to eight green companies, among them Lutz's own.

Grey energy

Apart from the foundations, the building is entirely made out of untreated wood from the region. "This is to save as much grey energy as possible, the energy needed for the production and transport of materials," explained the architect.

"The savings made are equivalent to the energy needed to heat the building for nearly 100 years," he added.

The Green Offices are also CO2 negative - they absorb more of the gas than they gave out during their construction. And 94 per cent of the energy used in the building is from renewable sources – the hot water is produced by solar panels on the roof and the heating by a wood-pellet fired boiler. The electricity is wind-powered.

Added to this, rainwater is collected and the toilets are biodegradable and dry, with wood shavings that transform waste into humus.

The total cost of the Green Offices, including the land, was SFr3.2 million ($2.9 million).

Green future?

Nowadays, the knowledge is there, the materials are on the market and construction companies are starting to jump on the bandwagon. But Lutz says there is still some more work to be done.

"We have got to six per cent in the Green Offices on a physical energy-consumption level and it would be difficult to go further than that because of the heating. But there are other areas to explore," Lutz says with enthusiasm.

"We are going to start working on a project of a similar size this summer in a commune in the Haute Savoie [in France] and there will be another one in Gascony," he said.

The architect also has several projects in the pipeline in Switzerland, "where people have taken the plunge, such as financial and public institutions which understand that they have to join in sustainable development."

swissinfo, based on an article in French by Isabelle Eichenberger

Watt D'Or

The Federal Energy Office established the annual "Watt D'Or" (Golden Watt) prize last year.

It gives recognition to innovative energy-efficient projects. The winning concepts must also be of interest to the wider public.

There is no prize money and no table of rankings. All projects and players or organisations receive an award in the form of a certificate and a trophy.

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Conrad Lutz

Born in Vevey in 1953, Lutz studied technical drawing, architecture, wood construction and geobiology.

In 1996 he set up his own architect's office in Fribourg.

He teaches at various higher-level schools of architecture.

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Prizes

The 16 jurors handed out awards to seven projects of the 19 finalists (out of 80 entries).

Categories / Prizewinner

Society: Sustainable development project in Coldrerio, canton Ticino
Energy technologies and renewable energy: Tegra Wood and Energy company of Domat/Ems for its biomass power plant
Economic mobility: Hess garage Bellach near Solothurn and Eurobus travel company of Windish, canton Aargau for the design of a hybrid bus
Building: Viriden + Partner (Zurich) and Conrad Lutz Architect in Givisiez, Fribourg.
Special prize: Josef Jenni of Burgdorf, solar energy pioneer.

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