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Published: 21.12.2006, 06:00
Modified: 20.12.2006, 11:36
Science City Sustainability Competition
“We want to go much further”

Science City is being given buildings with outstanding energy balances and perhaps a tram line and mixed utilisation. But that doesn’t go far enough. Gerhard Schmitt, ETH Vice-president for Planning and Logistics, and Science City Project Manager Michael Salzmannhave launched an international competition in order to get new stimuli for the integrated sustainability of the Hönggerberg campus.

Interview: Peter Rüegg

Science City is taking on an increasingly concrete shape. Why are entries now being invited to a competition for the sustainability of Science City?

Gerhard Schmitt: The Science City Project was based on the sustainability viewpoint from the very start. This is already defined in the initial documentation. ETH Zurich intends not only to research, define and teach sustainability, it also wants to implement it in practice in its infrastructure operations. This aspect was and will be incorporated into the competitive tender invitations for future buildings. However, now that the master plan and the sustainability conditions specified in the special structural requirements are in existence, it is time to use a competition on concrete principles to find the most innovative integrated solution.

Which aspects of sustainability in particular do you want to encourage through the competition?

Schmitt: The ETH Domain has great competence in the area of sustainability, but we still do not have a comprehensive vision of a campus built according to this point of view. We consider it necessary that this should now take place. At the same time it is important that sustainability as we define it for this project relates not just to individual buildings but to the integration of the environment, society and economic development. Following discussions with experts inside and outside ETH, and especially with the representatives of more than 40 NGOs, we have defined these three major scopes as important.

You have certainly already taken these three aspects into account in the planning up to now. What further contribution can the competition make?

Schmitt: When we invited entries to a competition for a building in the past, we were able to define the sustainability requirements that were to be taken into consideration. However, we could not require the planners to define Science City as a sustainable organism and to design their project as a part of it. This background information, and above all a clearly defined energy and sustainability system, was missing. It is now a question of creating a basis for the entire Campus, in conjunction with the energy concept of the City of Zurich, that optimises the important interactions between the users, the buildings and the environment as a whole. Far more positive developments can be derived from this system approach than if we looked at only a single building. Another important component is the transport concept, which extends far beyond the Campus and encompasses the entire city. This must also be made an integral part.

So how far have you already progressed with the transport ideas? There was talk of a new tram line all the way to the Campus.

Schmitt: A new study shows the measures that must be taken to create the greatest possible sustainability in the transport system as well, while ensuring mobility at the same time. So this involves a combination of actions in a composite of public transport, slow transport (walking, cycling) and private motor transport rather than a single mode of transport.

Michael Salzmann: The completely new feature is that the VBZ (Zurich Transport Services) and ZVV (Zurich Transport Companies Association) tram line has been included as an option in the official strategy documents. One of the three main lines will be examined in depth for implementation in the long-term planning.

Which tram line is involved?

Salzmann: It would be the 15, which will be extended up from Bucheggplatz to the Hönggerberg, and at most an exchange for lines 11 und 15 is under discussion.

Sustainability competition: entries by the end of December

The project management of Science City launched an open international sustainability competition for Science City in October this year. The competition is addressed to project teams with an interdisciplinary composition from technical colleges and other institutions of higher education. Important pre-conditions for participation in the competition include soundly based knowledge and experience in the sustainability field. ETH Zurich hopes that the results of the projects that will be submitted will provide important additional foundations to continue the planning and implementation and also for the sustainable operation of Science City, as well as in the areas of society and economics, conservation in the use of space and water, renewable energy sources, materials flows and transport. International project teams can still take part in the sustainability competition until the end of December this year. The deadline for entries is 31 December 2006. The projects must be submitted by 16 February 2007.(1)

How much sustainability is allowed? Michael Salzmann and Gerhard Schmitt discuss the specifications for Science City large

But plans of this kind do the competition entrants’ work for them.

Schmitt: Part of it. When looking at it in an integrated way, it is important to take transport into account and to assume mobility as a necessary characteristic. However, a large amount of traffic can be caused or avoided through content planning. In the past we had many subjects that were taught at both locations, which led to considerable traffic between the locations. We have succeeded in reducing this traffic by bringing departments together geographically and by timetable alterations. This is part of ETH’s strategic planning, but it is also an important control element for sustainability. An additional fact is that we want to build housing space for students in Science City. This will give the students more time for teaching and research every day – average daily journey times from 20 minutes up to one hour. Traffic pollution will be reduced as a result.

Are there other concrete examples of sustainability being lived in Science City?

Salzmann: Using the statutory principles, ETH Zurich has committed itself to fulfil Minergie P, the minimum energy standard currently in force, for all residential buildings. We have even committed ourselves to going much further and want to aim at zero energy or to build houses that generate energy. This promise is not included in the regulations because it is not yet standard at the present time.

That affects mainly buildings. What about the social aspect?

Schmitt: The master plan provides for mixed functions and for the whole Campus to be car-free. Nature will be an integral part. The “Nature Park” certificate we received for Science City in early November gives documentary proof of this. Salzmann: Numerous sociological development considerations were put into the Master Plan. There is a move away from large monolithic structures and towards small-scale modular shapes with opportunities to communicate and to meet together. The successful “Science City Rendezvous” series of events is currently running. Enlivening and opening up the area for the population is an aspect we are striving towards during the four-month test run. They are requests that the districts asked for, and we are doing it in accordance with the sustainable anchoring and networking of the Science City area, which is now somewhat cut off.

Does the population of the districts come to Science City?

Schmitt: Oh yes! 50 to 80 percent of the participants at each of the Sunday morning events came from the districts. And not only from the districts but from the whole city of Zurich and beyond.

Salzmann: The good thing is that younger people and children are also coming, not just older people. That really is the kind of mixing we are striving for.

What is the present position regarding entries for the competition?

Salzmann: The time allowed for entries is still running. By two weeks ago 15 entries had already arrived, and we are receiving more all the time.

Schmitt: It is important that the invitations to enter the competition are issued globally. We want to capture novel ideas for sustainability from wherever in the world they exist. We don’t want just navel-gazing.

What is the experience from competitions in similar circumstances? Is it really possible to collect ideas that way?

Schmitt: We do not know of anything comparable to this integrated vision for an entire campus. Of course international competitions exist for individual aspects. We know that sustainability is becoming a huge topic for the countries of Asia, and increasingly for America as well. That’s why the prototypes we are building here have long-term relevance. We also want to use the results of this competition and its implementation as a teaching and research tool in the future. The combination of new methods of financing the construction of buildings and new requirements or competition conditions lead to a new type of planning. This led to highly innovative solutions in the case of the competition for the HPL Life Science Platform that has just closed. If it can be implemented in that way, this building will become the laboratory building with the lowest energy consumption in the whole of Switzerland.

(1) Project documentation at

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