2226 – A low-energy modernistic office building designed for the future

Lustenau, AT

Whenever we hear about a building that is described as an experiment and prototype, as a model of energy-efficient 21st century construction, certain images always spring to mind: it must be a high-tech building, packed with futuristic materials and electronic gadgets. What else could it be? Building 2226 by the architecture firm be baumschlager eberle in Lustenau, Austria is just such a prototype – and yet it's anything but science fiction.

Despite its innovative power, nothing about the building appears to be out of the ordinary. It is strong and solid, timeless and prosaic, almost a return to what architecture once was. The building is a stern cube with massive walls, clear openings, and well-proportioned rooms, which was built using everyday, long-lasting materials. This house features smart technology, but it isn't a machine. Its basic principle is simplicity, yet it is anything but mundane.

The architect’s responsibility

be baumschlager eberle didn't just design the new building; they're also its users. This allowed them to personally test the viability of their concept.

Two of the building's floors are occupied by the employees of the renowned planning office, which is represented by nine additional offices worldwide. The other floors are rented out and used in various ways (conference rooms, cafeteria, art gallery, apartments, individual offices, open-plan offices).

The careful use of resources and an improved quality of life in our built environment is a core theme in the work of this architecture firm and of its co-founder Dietmar Eberle. For him, this is “the responsibility of the architect to the future and to the people who don't have a say.”

No heating, no ventilation – but plenty of comfort

Two questions fundamentally drive the architects – and especially so when planning prototype 2226: how can we create practical connections for the building’s occupants without having to replace nature with a technical environment? And how can we use even less energy to achieve even more comfort? In this case, they found their answers in a type of internal research project that they conducted in collaboration with structural engineers and other planning specialists. The building, in which they now work, is entirely free of any mechanical heating, ventilation or air conditioning systems. This saves money and energy, which means no investment or maintenance costs for otherwise common technical systems. Moreover, this means that its energy consumption is much lower compared to conventional office buildings – while the construction costs are very moderate.

Solid construction, intelligently controlled

The success of the concept is primarily due to two key factors: a solid structure and newly developed software that controls in-house energy flows. Here, the exterior shell of the building is especially important. In the past, and especially in the modern era, architects have always sought to dissolve facades, to dematerialize them, to make them appear lighter, thinner, and more transparent. Building 2226 turns that approach on its head and uses its massive building structure as storage mass. It has an unusually strong wall structure consisting of two differently constructed brick walls connected to each other, each 38 centimeters thick. While the inner layer provides stability, the outer layer insulates the building. This means that it doesn't need additional thermal insulation.

The massive walls can store and radiate heat (which is solely produced by technical equipment exuding waste heat and the warmth of human bodies). In the summer, these walls keep the building from heating up too much. The wood-framed windows account for only a quarter of the total building surface. They are flush with the interior walls, whose thickness keeps them mostly in the shade.

Universally accepted perfect temperature

The temperature in the rooms is controlled by sensors, which open and close narrow openings that are integrated into the windows. For example, these ventilation panels are automatically opened in the winter when the carbon dioxide in the room exceeds a certain level. In the heat of the summer, the panels open at night in order to cool the interior spaces naturally. This ensures the result that gave “2226” its name – the universally accepted perfect temperature between 22 and 26 degrees Celsius, or 72 and 79 degrees Fahrenheit. The temperature is complemented by optimal lighting conditions and the relaxing, inviting atmosphere of the rooms.

Of course, the architects don't use numbers, facts or technical performance to describe their beautifully temperature-regulated home. Rather, they emphasize terms such as comfort, atmosphere and well-being.

USM as a benchmark

Sideboards and shelves by USM don't just serve as storage furniture for building 2226: they also divide the work areas and alternate with elegant, long wooden tables to create a clear spatial structure.

The meeting spaces are furnished with USM Haller tables.

This is not the first time that be baumschlager eberle has chosen USM Modular Furniture Haller, either for a new building or in its previous office spaces. According to the firm, that's actually the reason for their enthusiasm for USM – apart from the great design: most of the USM furniture in Building 2226 is already 15 years old. But they will be able to continue using it for many years, thanks to its longevity and adaptability. In this case, USM Haller has actually become the company's benchmark for everything else: the architects used the measurements of the existing base module as an exact specification for the desks, which were designed especially for this project and commissioned in oak.

So the same principle applies throughout this exemplary building project, from the blueprints to the furniture: solidity and durability are truly sustainable and future-oriented, much more than even the very latest technical gadgets. 

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