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HiLo at NEST | Switzerland’s Sustainable Building Research Project

HiLo Switzerland

In Switzerland, an innovative, sustainable new structure was designed to influence how we build.

Just outside of Zurich, a new structure with swooping rooflines sits high atop a four-story building. This isn’t some billionaire’s penthouse aerie. Instead, it’s an experimental research project meant to create a more sustainable approach to building.

Short for high performance, low emissions, HiLo is the eighth module built upon the NEST building on the campus of two research institutions, Empa and Eawag, in Duebendorf, Switzerland, which are part of ETH university. The NEST building itself is a LEGO-like shelf system, where experimental residential and commercial structures can be constructed.

“The NEST building is a vertical village with a central backbone,” explains Arno Schlueter, an ETH professor of architecture and building systems, who spearheaded the HiLo project with fellow ETH architecture professor Philippe Block. “Its layers are constantly changing and it serves as a way of learning by doing. NEST bridges the gap between lab research and application.”

Opened in fall of 2021, the approximately 1,300-square-foot HiLo structure—which was designed as office space—was a concept initiated in 2012, says Schlueter. It showcases several sustainable construction innovations. 

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HiLo Switzerland

Most visually striking are the arched rooflines, inspired by gothic cathedrals, which frame large glass walls. The roof’s load-bearing capacity comes from the curved geometry and its lightweight concrete sandwich structure is made of two thin layers of reinforced concrete connected by a grid of concrete ribs and steel anchors. The construction method saves both materials and formwork.

HiLo’s mezzanine floors were also designed to use as little material as possible by employing a rib-stiffened funicular shell instead of flat plate, which allowed for more than 70 percent reduction in material over the use of conventional floor slabs. For further efficiency, ventilation, cooling and heating systems were also integrated into the floor structure.

Under Schlueter’s direction, a solar facade was designed for HiLo. Set in a metal armature, 30 photovoltaic panels were installed on a southwest-facing window to provide some of the structure’s energy needs and act like louvers, shading the glass from too-bright sunshine, yet allowing views and daylighting.

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HiLo Switzerland

“This solar facade is designed to learn from the occupants,” Schlueter points out. “After a while, the control system knows how to calculate the probability of what indoor conditions are most comfortable for the occupants, and therefore reduce energy consumption.”

HiLo’s occupants are set to move in early this year, and they will be part of HiLo’s ongoing research and testing, which, Schlueter says, will go on for approximately three years. Will HiLo’s innovations translate into real-world strategies and products? 

“We hope so,” says Schlueter. “This is primarily a research project, but we are always wanting a collaboration to bring this research into the marketplace.”

“This solar facade is designed to learn from the occupants,” Schlueter points out. “After a while, the control system knows how to calculate the probability of what indoor conditions are most comfortable for the occupants, and therefore reduce energy consumption.”

HiLo Switzerland

Want to see this for yourself? When it can safely be done, NEST and HiLo will begin guided tours. In the meantime, you can have a virtual tour through HiLo’s website.

SUSTAINABLE SHOWHOUSE

Join us for Net Zero ICONIC Home, a year-long conversation about Living Beautifully and Sustainably in a zero-energy home. We’ve partnered with AFT Construction, Construction Instruction, Cosan Studio, Refined Gardens and K & Q Interiors to take you on a journey of Inspiration, Education and Motivation around sustainable design and living.

 

We’re giving you a front-row seat each month to see the progress and what it takes to develop a net-zero home. Stay tuned each month for content, social media coverage, videos, podcasts and special events all tied to sustainability as we bring this home to life.

 

Thank you to our sponsors: Arizona Hardwood, Arizona Fireplaces/Heat&Glo Fireplaces, Avocado Green Brands, Circa Lighting, Crestron, Neighbor, Solstice Stone and Sub-Zero/Expressions Home Gallery.

 

Sustainability Sponsors: Broan-Nutone, Elkay/Southwest Mechanical, Interior Essentials, Pella, Monarch AV and Renovation Angel.

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