Switzerland’s First Zero-Carbon Technology Park

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FRIBOURG, Switzerland – Square glass buildings are silhouetted against a green city park and glistening blue pond. They are towered over by a building whose sides are equipped with prominent solar cells. An old redbrick chimney stands in the middle of modern architecture. This is what Switzerland’s first completely zero-carbon technology park could look like in a few years.

The blueFACTORY model “Steamboat” as envisioned by architects Brockmann Stierlin.

Photo courtesy of blueFACTORY

The blueFACTORY model “Steamboat” as envisioned by architects Brockmann Stierlin.

The park is located in Fribourg, halfway between Zurich and Geneva. It is called blueFACTORY and will include start-ups, research platforms, shops, restaurants and art galleries. The project is very ambitious for the small town of Fribourg: blueFACTORY would be Europe’s first zero-carbon technology park situated in the centre of a city, and with its 53’000 square meters Switzerland’s biggest zero-carbon site. The park wants to cooperate with the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, the College of Engineering and Architecture of Fribourg and the University of Fribourg to serve as an innovator in the fields of biomedicine, information security and above all: sustainability. While construction of the energy efficient office buildings is scheduled to begin in 2014, 20 start-up firms have already taken up work on site temporarily using old industrial facilities.

blueFACTORY wants to attract innovative, climate conscious firms
Bcomp CEO's: left Cyrille Boinay, right Christian Fischer with their textiles and yarns made of natural fibres.

Photo courtesy of blueFACTORY

Bcomp CEO's: left Cyrille Boinay, right Christian Fischer with their textiles and yarns made of natural fibres.

One of them is Bcomp. The firm uses natural fibres gained from flax and the banana plant abaca instead of artificial carbon fibres for a wide range of products, such as skis and tricycles. The natural fibres are found on the ski’s surface as well as in its core. Cyrille Boinay, the managing director and one of the four co-founders wants to change the industry with Bcomp’s natural fibres and thus boost sustainability.

Bcomp illustrates what blueFACTORY is all about: the park hopes to attract enterprises that are both high-performance and in line with the facility’s environmental friendly policy. “We want to work with creative, innovative, climate conscious firms”, says Laure Schönenberger, a blueFACTORY representative. Along with an ecologically friendly surrounding, blueFACTORY offers start-ups and other companies infrastructure and the possibility to directly engage with other enterprises. “This synergy will stimulate the innovative process within the firms”, says Schönenberger. Bcomp’s success foreshadows what blueFACTORY enterprises might achieve in the future: The company’s fibres have already been used by the renowned traditional Swiss ski producer Stöckli.

Not everything is fixed yet

To realize the daring blueFACTORY-project the city of Fribourg needs to overcome major obstacles before the end of 2013. The biggest challenge is to provide a detailed architectural concept of how the zero-carbon goal will be reached. An architectural contest held in 2012 shows a possible direction: the winning proposal by architects Brockmann Stierlin called “Steamboat” is characterized by compact buildings with a proportionally optimized surface. “These aspects are central for sustainability”, says architect Marc Stierlin. While dense construction shortens transportation routes between buildings, a small surface makes for minimal heat loss. Infrared images of houses show an increased energy outlet over roof, windows and walls. Heat insulation and reducing the building’s surface to an ideal dice-like form can lower this because quadratic buildings have a small surface and therefore loose less energy.

Brockmann Stierlin Architecture: bird’s eye view of the blueFACTORY site and it’s surroundings

Photo courtesy of blueFACTORY

Brockmann Stierlin Architecture: bird’s eye view of the blueFACTORY site and it’s surroundings

Zero-carbon buildings compensate the energy they use with an equivalent amount of energy produced from renewable sources. While the city of Fribourg has announced that blueFACTORY’s energy sources may include solar energy, biogas, biomass and geothermal energy, details have yet to be disclosed. A similar park located in Southern Tyrol, the EURAC Institute for renewable energy, might serve as a model: The ecologically designed building uses five times less energy than an office building of similar size thanks to thermal insulation. The building’s remaining annual energy use of 60 kilowatt hours per square meter stem from solar heated water storage tanks and a photovoltaic solar cell system on the roof.

blueFactory is dealing with criticism

While considering architectural options, the city is also dealing with criticism. The technology park is built on a site formerly occupied by the city’s popular brewery Cardinal. Its closure in 2011 caused an outcry among the people of Fribourg. In a reaction to the emotional attachment of the citizens to this particular site, blueFACTORY recently declared to preserve parts of the old brewery. The Cardinal museum will remain on site as well as the distinctive main tower. This decision changed public opinion drastically: “The people of Fribourg have recognized the huge potential blueFACTORY holds”, Schönenberger says. The city bought the property for 25 Million Swiss Francs.

Time will tell whether the city manages to take the vision to the next level. The investment in the project would certainly pay off for the historically bilingual French-German canton of Fribourg: blueFACTORY could position itself as an important mediator between the French- and German-speaking scientists of Middle Europe regarding new sustainable technologies.

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