News Overview

HORTUS: Switzerland’s most sustainable office building located at the Main Campus

Arianna Ramirez

What is a sustainable building?  

Sustainable building is an innovative approach to design, construction, and operation that aims to create structures that are not only environmentally responsible but also resource-efficient throughout their lifecycle.  

According to the UN environmental program, the building and construction sector is by far the largest emitter of greenhouse gases, accounting for 37% of global emissions. What if the choice of your office space could make a difference? 

Switzerland’s most sustainable office building

Made of wood, clay and recycled paper, from energy positive to energy supplier the HORTUS (House of Research, Technology, Utopia and Sustainability) is set to be in 2025 one of Switzerland’s most sustainable office buildings. A testament to sustainability and innovation, HORTUS sits at the heart of Europe’s premier life-science innovation district, and soon will be home to many innovative startups and established companies from the Switzerland Innovation Park Basel Area – Main Campus. This special building designed by Herzog & de Meuron and developed by SENN, pays back its construction energy in one generation. 

“The entire culture of what we do and where we live has to be re-considered in a sustainable way. This is a real challenge but at the same time it’s an incredibly attractive idea”

Jacques Herzog
Herzog & de Meuron, Founding Partner 

Visualizations by Herzog & de Meuron

Principles of sustainable building and how HORTUS meets them 

Energy efficiency 

In order to achieve the ambitious goal of paying back the energy used to build it within one generation, the HORTUS must generate a maximum energy harvest. Using a photovoltaic system of approx. 5,000 m2 for this purpose, the building is equipped with solar panels on the hipped roof and on the façade, where possible down to the lowest floor. This maximizes the energy harvest, resulting in an overproduction of approx. 30KWh per year. All in all, after 31 years the HORTUS will become energy positive. 

Waste reduction 

The so-called full circle design of the HORTUS ensures that no component is wasted. In other words, as many components as possible should outlast the building and have a potential second or even third life. This requires a sophisticated use of raw materials – be it by sharing, recycling, repairing or reprocessing them. Examples of this include the use of recyclable rammed earth in the ceilings and parapets or wastepaper used for insulation. However, if building materials such as steel are used for the escape stairs, these are also 100% reusable. 

Sustainable materials 

According to SENN, the choice of ceilings was also key in terms of minimizing grey energy. Although flat concrete ceilings are (still) the cheapest, they have a substantial ecological footprint. A solution was required that consisted of local and sustainable components such as wood and clay.  The result is a wooden beam ceiling with rammed earth, which is based on a pure plug-in system of Japanese construction. Thanks to its modular structure, it is transportable and will therefore also have a second life. Basically, all the components used in the HORTUS were cataloged and will be available for recycling in the ecological cycle system after any demolition of the building in the future.  

Benefits of sustainable buildings like HORTUS 

Aside from the obvious ecological impact, sustainability at HORTUS not only involves materials and ecology, but also people and nature. 

Johannes Eisenhut, Managing Director of Senn Development AG, sums up this holistic principle: “The HORTUS will be a source of energy – both creative and factual solar energy. It has an attitude that combines tech and nature, stimulates science and utopia and exemplifies sustainability in ecological, human and social terms.”  

The green inner courtyard of the HORTUS, for which a biodiversity concept was developed. With a water garden and the vertical greenery extending from there, it offers users a variety of views and vistas as well as places to interact and mingle. The first floor is also divided and designed for meetings and co-working with fully equipped meeting rooms, meeting booths and a cafeteria. 

What are the challenges of sustainable building construction?  

According to SENN, a building that incorporates circular economy is currently still more expensive than a standard building.  Certain production processes and materials are kept artificially cheap, whereas manual labor with Swiss wages is expensive.  “It’s a shame that the focus here is on operations. We have reached a point where constructing a building with standard materials costs more CO2 and energy than it will later consume over its entire service life. We need to rethink the standards.” Said Kerstin Müller, Managing Director of Zirkular In an interview for SENN 

Nevertheless, “We as a society can do it” also said Kerstin Müller, explaining how office buildings as the HORTUS prove that new buildings can indeed be constructed with a very small footprint. 

How can HORTUS benefit your business sustainability goals and enhance your global impact?

By becoming a HORTUS resident you’ll directly contribute to saving 26 tons of CO2 per year (per floor). Your company can also save up to 25% of space by using common areas and meeting rooms outside their rented space thanks to our ecosystem-oriented workspace. Plus, you’re choosing a location in the heart of Europe’s largest life-science innovation district, offering much more than just sustainability: the key to innovation and collaboration.

A glimpse into HORTUS:

Become part of HORTUS

Companies that seek to accelerate innovation through a collaborative environment benefit from setting up their offices at HORTUS.

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