Driven by the passion to bring a significant change in the approach by the global construction industry, the award-winning Norwegian architecture firm “Snøhetta”, in collaboration with “Entra”, a property development company, “Skanska”, a construction and development company, “ZERO” environmental consultants and “Asplan Viak” consultancy, has designed their fifth of its kind project, “Powerhouse Brattørkaia” at Trondheim, Norway. The other similar energy-efficient buildings designed by the studio were three renovations, Drøbak Montessori High School, Harvard HouseZero, Powerhouse Kjørbo, and a residential project, the ZEB Pilot House.

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Powerhouse Brattorkaia, Trondheim _©Ivar Kvaal

Powerhouse Brattørkaia is however the largest building of its kind erected so far. Located at the northern end of the globe, adjacent to the port of Trondheim, Norway, Powerhouse Brattørkaia explores the possibilities of a sustainable future for buildings to come.

Aims

As stated in the report by World Resources Institute, the energy sector along with the construction industry alone is responsible for more than 40% of emissions and heat retention across the globe. The global leaders in the concerned sectors had to come up with responsible measures for the practice. This project is the outcome of one such approach made. The objective of the studio for this project was threefold- to maximize the production of clean renewable energy from the structure, to minimize the energy consumption for its operations, and serve as pleasant space to be utilized by its tenants and the general public.

This building aims to set a new standard for sustainable architecture and construction practices across the world. Cladded with almost 3000m2 of solar panels, the building is expected to generate approximately 500,000-kilowatt-hours of clean, renewable energy per year.

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View from top_©Ivar Kvaal

The building, as per the literal meaning, serves as a power generator along with providing for commercial space. It is estimated that within 60 years of its operation, it would produce more energy than the total energy it would have consumed in operations, construction and would consume in demolition. This summation includes even the embodied energy used in the production of its construction materials. 

Location

The strategic location selected for this project enables it to make the maximum out of the most energy-abundant abiotic element of nature, sunlight. Sitting at the edge of the city, Powerhouse Brattørkaia, also makes a great scenic beauty against the mountains behind, for the rest of the city to look at from a distance. The office building covers around 18,000 m2 of the area and is connected to the Trondheim Central Station through its rear end via a pedestrian bridge.

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View from the city_©Ivar Kvaal

The building’s proximity to seawater has been made of use by exercising the warmth of deep seawater on winter days for heating and ventilation purposes. The carefully chosen site for this project helps maximize the use of sunlight since the adjacent areas are public spaces, with no tall building to cast its shadow over the solar panels.

Energy Positivity

The project was completed in 2019 and has been awarded the BREEAM Outstanding certification. It is the highest possible ranking by the world’s leading sustainability assessment method. Kjetil Trædal Thorsen, the founding partner at Snøhetta says, Energy-positive buildings are the buildings of the future. The mantra of the design industry should not be ‘form follows function’ but ‘form follows environment’. This means that the design thinking of today should focus on environmental considerations and reducing our footprint first, and have the design follow this premise,”.

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View from the foot over bridge at the back_©Ivar Kvaal

On an average basis, the building produces twice as much energy as it consumes daily. It supplies the renewable energy to itself, the neighboring infrastructures, and the local transportation system through a microgrid. The energy produced from as much as 19 hours of sunlight exposure in summer days is stored, and used in the winters when the sun shines for nearly 5 hours at max. The building however does not rely only on solar energy to carry out its energy-consuming functions.

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View at night_©Ivar Kvaal

Form

The built-up area has been made to its maximum as allowed by the local regulatory body. The building starts as a skewed pentagon on the ground floor and later terminates into an irregular quadrilateral till the top. The edges of the building are slightly curved outwards, so as to impart the feeling of energy bursting out of the edifice. The central core of the building has been scooped out from the top in the shape of an ellipse, allowing the sunlight to reach its office spaces. 

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View of the city from the building_©Ivar Kvaal

The light-well illuminates each floor with natural light and cuts short the need for artificial lighting. The face of the elliptical cutout has been covered with corrugated yellow aluminum composite panels of the same material as the black ones, creating a contrasting view for the city to look at. The atrium descends into a garden cum public courtyard at the second-floor level, which is accessible through a staircase running from the ground level.

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View from inside the office space_©Ivar Kvaal

Strategies Adopted

The large meeting rooms are all designed at the eastern end of the building, leading to the maximum exposure of sunlight to these rooms, making them passively illuminated and heated as well. The smaller rooms, on the other hand, have been positioned away from the periphery so that they don’t get too much heat. Another passive measure adopted to regulate the temperature in the building is the roof cuts made at strategic points to expose the low-emission concrete structural thermal mass. The mass helps in regulating the temperature of the inside by retaining the heat and cold from the outside. Displacement ventilation technology has been installed in the building to efficiently manage the thermal comfort inside the envelope. The roof has been cladded carefully with black aluminum panels so that no difference at the joints of solar panels could be made out while looking at it from a distance.

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Solar panels at roof_©Ivar Kvaal

A new concept of sustainable lighting has been incorporated in this powerhouse, called “Liquid Light”. According to the movement and occupancy, the artificial lights dim smoothly as per this technology. “Liquid Light is contextually designed with respect for human needs and energy efficiency, ensuring unique lighting solutions for the users,” described the firm.

All these state-of-the-art technologies installed in this building helps reduce its energy consumption to only half of the energy consumed by any other commercial office building of similar size. This “Guild” of sustainable developers has just begun its journey into paving a new path for the industry to follow, and it can be hoped that the future of architecture would indeed be as sustainable.

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Ground Floor_©Snøhetta
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First Floor_©Snøhetta
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Office Floor_©Snøhetta
Section_©Snøhetta

References:

snohetta.com. (n.d.). Powerhouse Brattørkaia – the World’s Northernmost Energy-Positive Building. https://snohetta.com/projects/456-powerhouse-brattorkaia-the-worlds-northernmost-energy-positive-building#  

Author

“Imtiaz is an architect based in New Delhi, inclined towards art and history. He sees architecture as millions of untold stories frozen in time. He has an immense love for literature and everything that has anything to do with the past. He specifically enjoys museum tours and reading books.”

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