Overestimated Sustainability

Overestimated Sustainability

e-Science Lab ETH

The dream of green architecture has characterized the HIT in Zurich. But no eco-certificate can save you from pure accident.

Prestigious is what you could call the plans for the new HIT building of the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich (ETH). The university’s management dreamt of reducing CO² emissions and cutting down on energy consumption.  The energy-political potential of ETH Zurich, the global 2,000 Watt society, could not be achieved, at their own site in Zürich-Hönggerberg of all places.

In 2001, the university launched a competition for a new “greener” building that could be flexibly adapted to user requirements. The future field bio and information sciences were supposed to grow, space for events was needed as well. From the 20 participating teams, Baumschlager Eberle Lochau ZT GmbHwere the ones who got the contract for building the e-Science Lab.

However, the foundations of the HIT building could be laid only five years later, since ETH was not able to guarantee for the financing. The users who were scheduled for moving in had moved into another building in the meantime. This way the flexible design of the 68 million Euro building was able to be made use of by the university. Nearly 700 jobs and research positions were generated, which were able to be awarded to new professors and departments, as required.

Hi-Tech in a square Wrapping

Based on the plans by Baumschlager Eberle, ETH built an inconspicuous ashlar: fully faced with travertine lamellae. The 717 sun blinds were adjusted to the course of the sun in order to guarantee for best possible daylight exploitation and providing shadow. The material was also used for the hall, the lecture rooms and the staircases: all in all nearly 5,700 m² Roman travertine stone.

The compact building unfolds its full size inside. The yellow first floor invites the visitor into the building. The color and lighting concept was designed by Swiss artist Adrian Schiess. If required, the so-called MMU hall was able to be re-arranged into an open area of encounter or a closed auditorium. For this, additional rooms were integrated on each floor above the atrium. That way each floor gets its own layout. The staircases, the lifts or sanitary rooms were arranged around the yard and the offices, seminar rooms and research labs placed around them as a second frame.

The rooms were designed with an axis grid of 1.20 meter and can be increased in size in a flexible manner in order to adjust them to the respective purpose. The rooms are fully glazed towards the outside, each room has a door leading to the balcony running all around which is hidden when you look at the stone façade from the outside.

ETH’s guideline, the 2000 Watt-society, was supposed to be put into practice by an innovative technology: The light switches are inserted in a wireless manner into the flexible glass walls towards the hallway and are getting programmed depending on the required number of lights. Apart from that, all lights are equipped with motion detectors and daylight sensors. The heating, cooling and ventilation are operated by primary supply air induction devices. The latter were integrated into the double floors and thus hardly take away any space. A photovoltaic system on the roof, the use of waste heat – also from other buildings – and geothermal equipment guarantee best possible efficiency in terms of energy usage, according to the plans.

Praise and Misery are close to each other

For its function as a role-model in terms of the scheduled energy consumption, HIT received the European Architecture Award Energy + Architecture in 2009. Already before its completion ETH purchased a MINERGIE-ECO® certificate for the HIT building. In order to get this award, the building had to meet a number of criteria, such as best possible daylight usage, noise reduction and a sustainable selection of building materials. The MINERGIE-ECO® certificate is calculated based on a point system. Certification is done based on planned values and is fee-based. For a building of that size the award can be purchased from 15,000 Francs. The certified sustainability now decorates a board inside the entrance hall of the HIT. However, the building claims to have an energy consumption level it does actually not have.

An inspection in 2009 came to the conclusion that the building uses double as much as energy for lights as calculated originally. The threshold value of Minergy standards is at 10.3 kWh per m² and year, HIT, however, consumes 20. Instead of the aspired 164,000 kWh per year, the controllers measured an energy consumption of 326,000 kWh.

To lighting expert Stefan Grasser (eTeam) the reason for this massive difference is the defective lighting design. The great level of flexibility in terms of room planning has now turned into a disadvantage for the HIT due to the rigid lighting plans. The inspection report describes that the lamellae, actually designed to follow the course of the sun, don’t let enough daylight through. Textile blinds which were not in the original plans, are an additional obstacle for the light coming in.

Also the respective use of the programmed ceiling lights often does not achieve the desired lighting performance, according to the inspection. They are incorrectly configured or simply don’t work. The users have to use table lights. These lights have 60 Watt bulbs and don’t appear in any plans. The measured results were particularly dramatic inside the sanitary rooms, where the actual lighting performance had a difference of 150 per cent compared with the original calculations.

ETH project manager Daniel Emmenegger promised a lighting optimization program which was supposed to be realized in 2011. When asked about these rectifications, ETH and the Minergy label gave no information. Inspector Stefan Grasser, who found these defects in 2009, is not involved anymore in the 80,000 Francs optimization process.

The HIT, once considered a green role-model, seems to have turned into a problem child for the ETH and the label seller Minergy. The trust in the technology was too great. Technology is prone to interference, so “we had to learn the hard way in terms of building equipment“, Emmenegger says. Recall:ETH Zurich is among the world’s top 30 universities. Its guideline is: “Regarding education, research and services, ETH Zurich is geared towards highest internationally acknowledged standards.” A shame that the HIT project of all does not meet these high ambitions and the technical planning quality was neglected. Even a certificate can’t help.

Project details


Baumschlager Eberle Lochau ZT GmbH


Completion: 2008


Gross floor area: 16,564 m²

Volume SIA: 68,440 m³


Technische Hochschule Zürich


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admin's picture
admin 5. December 2011 - 16:12

muy interesante,gracias!!