As I’ve been describing over the last couple of weeks, Active House is a relatively new design standard for sustainable homes. It aims to show how energy efficient homes can also be great to live in, and make them a desirable option whether or not people are interested in the environment. There’s just one problem: how are you going to convince people that they want one?
When we’re buying a sofa, we can go to a showroom and try them all out. That’s harder with a home. Even if we can go and walk around a show home, we wouldn’t get to live in it and test it. We wouldn’t experience how it feels to pad around in our slippers, or to go to sleep and wake up in it. Unless people can see the difference an Active House would make to their life and wellbeing, there’s no reason why they’d ever want one.
That makes hotels a really useful way to showcase sustainable architecture, and a couple of weeks ago I heard a presentation from Trine Richter, entrepreneur and CEO of the Green Solution House. She is based on the island of Bornholm in Denmark. Business on the island is highly seasonal, and she wanted to create a business that would extend the visitor season and create employment year-round. Her idea was to build a hotel that was different enough to be worth seeing by itself, so that people would come and visit or choose to host conferences on the island – and the difference would be a bold vision of sustainability.
As a bright modern hotel, you could stay there with no real interest in sustainable architecture. But you’ll hear about it. The Green Solution House is shamelessly proselytizing for sustainability, and the building is packed with ideas. They boast about their 75 green solutions that are incorporated into the site.
One of those solutions is renewable energy, and the building is generously provisioned with solar panels. Visitors will find that the glass balconies have solar cells incorporated into them. The hot water is solar too, and there’s a particularly ingenious re-purposing of the old swimming pool. It wasn’t economic to renovate it as a pool, so it was insulated and functions as a heat sink. Excess hot water is stored in it all year round, and then released into the under-floor heating system when needed.
Every effort has been taken to reduce waste, with wastewater processed on site. Food waste from the kitchen and restaurant goes into the pyrolysis plant to provide heat and electricity, and compost for the gardens.
The philosophy extends to the choice of materials, which were sourced locally as much as possible. Paths are made from glass offcuts from a local glassworks studio, tumbled into some of the prettiest gravel you’ll ever see. Old buildings on the site were crushed to form the carparks rather than pour tarmac. Furniture is upcycled. The building has also been designed so that when it does eventually reach the end of its lifetime, it can be disassembled rather than demolished. Much of it can be reused, a cradle to cradle approach that treats buildings as ‘material banks’ for the future.
In keeping with its Active House principles, the conference centre uses natural daylight as much as possible. The meeting space has no curtains, making a bright and airy meeting space – and Trina claims that what she saved in curtain material she had to spend on a daylight projector screen. Once clients have held an event there, they are often keen to return. Concentration levels are higher, people learn more, and there’s less of that afternoon slump that plagues the typical conference programme.
Outside, there are green roofs and green walls, and a garden full of local plants. The grounds are designed to flood into a series of seasonal ponds, creating a variety of habitats in the process.
I write about sustainable architecture most weeks, and I still find the Green Solution House extraordinary in its attention to detail. I’ve featured it in this little series on the Active House, but I could also have written about its cradle to cradle experiments, or its climate resilience planning.
There are all sorts of features to the building that clearly demonstrate that good sustainable architecture isn’t just greener – it’s just better all round. And that really helps to sell the idea of greener buildings to the wider population, raising demand and driving the transition. As Trina says: “let people see it in a hotel, and they’ll know what they’re missing”.