Revolutionizing building standards: the urban innovation challenge

When we talk about non-standard buildings, we often think of buildings with dozens of floors. But “standard” includes much more than size.

7 Min Read
Sebastien Labis

Between technology and innovation, standards are evolving daily to offer today the buildings of tomorrow.

When we talk about non-standard buildings, we often think of buildings with dozens of floors. But “standard” includes much more than size. Between technology and innovation, standards are evolving daily to offer today the buildings of tomorrow.

“The first thing that comes to mind when we talk about non-standard buildings is the Burj Khalifa Tower in Dubai, our Zaha Hadid’s Morpheus Hotel in Macao, or Frank Gehry’s Louis Vuitton foundation in Paris,” says Sebastien Labis of BPI, confirming this common idea of the standard in terms of size or remarkable architecture. “Nevertheless, there are many other ways to be non-standard, and examples of these can be found in Luxembourg.” Shahriar Agaajani, engineer and administrator of ASARS, confirms: “It’s more of a technological issue.”

Shahriar Agaajani

Standards other than matters of size.

BPI’s development director Sebastien Labis explains that non-standard buildings can be adapted to all uses, such as housing, retail and offices. He adds, however, “it is of course easier to develop a non-standard building when there is a single investor, such as in the construction of office space. A building can be considered to be non-standard, because of the use that is made of it following renovations, such as the Philharmonie which combines atypical architecture and exceptional acoustic quality.”

He also talks about buildings considered as non-standard, “as positive energy buildings.” A view shared by Shahriar Agaajani, administrator of ASARS, which he illustrates with the Belval IV project. Indeed, ASARS developed a first building in the Belval quarter in 2007. “And we’ve just completed the last residential building and the approach has moved on dramatically in fourteen years.”

Energy-related standards: the roof as an example

A few years ago, the standard was to give the roof a protective role against the weather so that the building would last over time. “We still need to protect the building but we also need to redress the ecological footprint of the building’s construction by transferring the lost lawn area, integrating it into a rooftop,” explains Shahriar Agaajani. The ecological footprint is also offset by integrating numerous photovoltaic panels: “Energy is created in a place where initially there was none and the building, which is huge, becomes energy self-sufficient.”

Shahriar Agaajani also stresses that rainwater is harvested to water the rooftop planting and the permaculture vegetable gardens provided for the residents. This vegetable garden space is created to meet new social standards.

Creating shared living spaces: an intergenerational standard.

The ASARS administrator stresses that for him, “buildings are no longer thought of only as a place for people to retreat into private spaces, but also as a place where they can come together”. The roof, redesigned as a space in its own right, is an example: “in addition to reclaiming the lawn, we have tried to enable a social approach where children, the elderly, people of any age can meet.”

The corridors of the Belval IV block are lined with green walls. In addition to functioning with an autonomous irrigation system fed by recovered rainwater, these walls transform the place which should be a place for passing through: “acoustically, the corridors become comfortable, it’s a place where people feel good and can spend time together,” says the ASARS administrator.

Shahriar Agaajani

A technical standard: the issue of materials

When asked about materials, Sebastien Labis, BPI’s development director explains that it is unthinkable to no longer take the ESG (environmental, social, governance) criteria into account. “This is becoming an obligation in part of our project portfolio.” The issue of materials then becomes essential.

And according to him, for the major investors, the financing conditions will be much better for environmentally responsible projects. “This means that the attractiveness of such projects will be enhanced and therefore the resale prices improved (or conversely then at least traditional buildings will be more difficult to sell).”

Sebastien Labis of BPI talks about wood: “It’s the only construction method with a positive carbon footprint.” Because it is an excellent thermal regulator, provides good acoustics, it’s light and easy to transport. “Wood stores CO during its growth phase and production generates little CO,” he continues. BPI’s development director explains that “among the many advantages of wood, I can cite the speed of building and improvement of working conditions on a site thanks to prefabrication in the factory, the reduction of site waste and a lighter structure that enables savings on foundations.” He concludes: “We have carried out a study on the building that we are going to construct in Belval, we are going to save 10,000 tonnes of CO on the project, compared with a conventional building site.”

Innovative models are rethinking the standards, both for the environment and for society. They are gradually revolutionising the property market. Sebastien Labis even explains: “We have realised that we can get better financing on projects that meet these new standards, we can manage to sell a wooden building for more than a traditional concrete building, for example.”

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