The Swiss solar house NeighborHub opens its doors in Fribourg

Winner of the best solar house at the international competition Solar Decathlon 2017 in Denver (USA), the NeighborHub has been reassembled at the smart living lab, on the site of the blueFACTORY in Fribourg. Created by students and professors of four universities and technical colleges (EPFL, HEIA-FR, HEAD and UNIFR), the NeighborHub was designed as a meeting place for the local population, in view of developing solutions for a more sustainable future. It opens its doors to the public on 28 and 29 April 2018. Guided tours as well as themed visits will take place, allowing an in-depth discovery of the building’s features such as “construction and logistics”, “architecture”, engineering” and “water management”.

Following its western conquest, it sets its sights on Fribourg
At the smart living lab, following its victory in October 2017 at the international competition Solar Decathlon in Denver (USA), the Swiss solar house NeighborHub has returned, successful in its western conquest after securing eight podiums out of a possible ten, including six gold medals under the banner “Swiss Living Challenge”. As a reminder, 250 students from the EPFL, the School of Engineering and Architecture of Fribourg, the Geneva School of Art and Design, and the University of Fribourg, 150 teaching staff from industry and academia together with approximately 50 public and private partners collaborated in this victorious adventure. The 70 tons of materials required for the construction of the NeighborHub crossed the Atlantic from the USA in twelve containers destined for Fribourg. The reassembly of the solar house took six weeks, spanning for February to April 2018, on location at the blueFACTORY. On 28 and 29 April 2018, an open house will allow the public to discover the NeighborHub’s features according to the following themes: “construction and logistics”, “architecture”, “engineering” and “water management”.

State visit and round tables

The official inauguration of the NeighborHub will be held on 26 April 2018 in the presence of the President of the Swiss Confederation Alain Berset and the President of the Federal Republic of Germany, Frank-Walter Steinmeier as part of his two-day state visit, the Federal Councillor Doris Leuthard, as well as cantonal authorities. The inauguration will continue with two round tables moderated by leadership from the technical colleges involved in the design of the building according to the following themes: “The NeighborHub: towards new pedagogies for our technical colleges” and “The NeighborHub: the fruits of a collaboration between academia, enterprise and the public sector”.

Architectural qualities, energy performance and intelligent water management
Rewarded in Denver in October 2017 for its architectural qualities, its energy performance and its intelligent water management, the NeighborHub distinguishes itself on several levels. In particular, it is equipped with 29 photovoltaic solar panels, all affixed to the façade and fitted with power optimizers, so as to maximize the available surface; a closed water circuit that values the recovery of rainwater and integrates aquaponics; a living roof and management of outer spaces that favors biodiversity. The building’s structure is made up of wooden modules. It delimits a center, the core, and a tempered outer area, the skin. The NeighborHub was imagined as a meeting place for local residents, in view of developing solutions for reducing and improving consumption. The measures endorsed include the use of renewable energy, mobility, water and waste management, food, biodiversity and building materials.

A new way of living at the neighborhood scale
Reassembled at the heart of the blueFACTORY innovation district, the NeighborHub is modular thanks to its flexible architecture, its mobile and foldable furnishing and an interior design capable of adapting to a variety of activities such as repair cafés, urban vegetable gardens, courses for sustainable cooking, etc. Beyond a mere solar house, these multifunctional spaces “offer a new way of living that is collective and environmentally friendly at a neighbourhood scale” says Marilyne Andersen, Dean of the EPFL’s School of Architecture, Civil and Environmental Engineering, and academic project leader. As of September 2018, Martin Schick, cultural manager of the blueFACTORY, will make it his playground as well as that of the inhabitants of Fribourg, offering various workshops centered on informing and exchanging, research and demonstration.

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energissima 2018

energissima, the exhibition of energy and sustainable technology solutions, takes place from Thursday 12 to Sunday 15 April 2018 at Espace Gruyère in Bulle. As a guest of honor, the smart living lab will present its activities through several exhibits, films and meetings with researchers.

The only exhibition in Switzerland specifically devoted to renewable energies, energissima 2018 is aimed at a mixed audience of private individuals and professionals. The 2018 objective of around a hundred exhibitors representative of the sectors concerned will be reached.

The outline of the programme of conferences and presentations is already established and can be consulted online. The presentations destined for professionals will take place on Thursday 12 and Friday 13 April 2018. They are organised jointly with the cluster Energie & Bâtiment. These presentations given by renowned experts in the field of sustainable energy technologies have three main focuses: solutions for greater energy efficiency, solutions for the integration of renewable energies, and solutions for sustainable mobility.

Conferences and presentations destined for the general public will take place on Saturday 14 and Sunday 15 April 2018. Organised in conjunction with the fair exhibitors, they offer a programme of conferences with the possibility of question and answer sessions, focused on topical subjects and solutions such as renovation of buildings, new constructions, habitat (smart living), renewable energies and combined energies, mobility, advice and solutions on regulations, financial aids and supports, etc.

Entertainment. Energissima will be enlivened continuously and in an original and interactive fashion during the four days of the exhibition by practical animations, displays, demonstrations, workshops and various special events, including some destined for children. Visitors will also have the opportunity of testing mobility objects and equipment.

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A dazzling victory for Switzerland at the Solar Decathlon 2017 competition

The Swiss team and its solar house, the NeighborHub, won the prestigious Solar Decathlon 2017 competition in the United States. The Swiss Living Challenge and its multidisciplinary team - 4 schools, 250 students (44 in Denver), 150 supervisors from the professional and academic sectors, and close to 50 sponsors - culminated with the highest award. This unique experience is not only an important victory, but also an unforgettable and educational human adventure.

After more than two years of intense preparation, the Swiss team can be proud of the performance of its students. All in all, over 250 students contributed in the design and construction of their solar house called NeighborHub, big winner of the international sustainable housing competition Solar Decathlon 2017. The 44 solar decathletes surpassed themselves on the competition site in Denver to build and show visitors around their house. «During the construction phase, I was impressed by the team’s determination. It was really hard, we were wet, tired, and cold, but everyone was driven by the project, because deep down, we believed in it.», says Florian Meyer, telecommunications student. The house traveled over 10'000 kilometers through the ocean, rail and road; a perilous route made even more difficult by hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Architecture students, Axelle Marchon and Sarah Sauthier, say: «At the beginning we were scared because of the missing container. During the construction phase, we were in survival mode. And finally, regarding the community house concept, we thought we could either make it or completely break it! We started believing in it when the first results were announced. At that moment, the house was up and running, and we said to ourselves that we are really participating in the competition!»

A risky bet that paid off
The NeighborHub, a solar community house, convinced the jury, and was awarded eight contests out of ten - six of them in the first place! One interesting conclusion about the competition is the fact that the juries either loved our unusual concept and granted us awards for it or considered it off-topic and penalized it. As a reminder, the Swiss team made the audacious bet of coming up with a different concept, proposing a house at the service of a community, rather than a family home. Most members of the jury appreciated the boldness of the concept, by granting the first place on the following contests: architecture, water management, health and comfort, home life, energy, and engineering, that is to say, six contests out of ten! The team was awarded the second place in appliances, and the third place in communications.

The bet is won, and the Swiss team wins the competition with a solid lead of 50 points. «Such a big gap is rare!», says Linda Silverman, Solar Decathlon 2017 director.

Team cohesion, the greatest triumph
A natural explanation of this great success, would be the synergy and convergence of people from different backgrounds towards a shared goal: architects, engineers, as well as communicators and economists. Joëlle Baehr-Bruyère, civil engineering student says: «Everybody was curious about one another’s disciplines. There was a strong intellectual energy! This dynamic, this emulation, was extremely rewarding».

They all looked for and found a common language. That was the greatest challenge during these three years of co-creation : «It took time to put in place a common language, but once we made it, everything started flowing, even though there was over 40 of us working together!», says Marin Thaller, architecture student. «Everybody struggled to make themselves heard and to have a chance to bring what mattered to them in the project. So yes, we all had to make concessions, but now we are all very proud, because the project is consistent, everything is well integrated, and everything’s been pushed to the limit», adds Alexandre Rychner, architecture student.

Values put to the real test
This adventure could not have been possible without the expertise provided by the four partner schools (EPFL, HEIA-FR, HEAD and UNIFR), the unfailing support from 48 partners with their expertise and know-how. Students were well aware of their chance to have such generous partners. Marin Thaller, architecture student, explains: «We made powerful connections with our partners, and that may lead to employment.»

The strength of the Swiss team consists in its multidisciplinary cohesion; everybody went along with it, regardless of their background. Joëlle Baehr-Bruyère, civil engineering students says: «We worked together, and we succeeded together. We helped and carried each other.» The Swiss team applied the NeighborHub values all the way through by making the sharing element the key of their success.

This project also provided the students with a unique, unforgettable, and inspirational learning opportunity. Xavier Tendon, environmental sciences and engineering student, is full of enthusiasm when it comes to speaking about the practical skills acquired: «I have learned to build a solar thermal system from A to Z. I’ll install one at home later, that’s for sure!»

The Swiss Living Challenge will be long remembered as a pioneering project providing a unique learning and sharing framework for its students, a real school of life. Fanny Mignon, architecture student concludes: «What we experienced, that’s sounds just incredible to me!»

The main Swiss Living Challenge partners are:
Institutional partners: Swiss Federal Office of Energy (SFOE), Canton of Fribourg, City of Fribourg, smart living lab
Diamond partners: Groupe E, Landolt & Cie SA and Sandoz Family Foundation
Gold partners: JPF-DUCRET, Regent, La Mobilière, Setimac
To check all partners:

Inaugural smart unconference: ‘Interactions and Behaviors’

Devoted to the theme ‘Interactions and Behaviors’, the first smart unconference took place on 21 June 2017. The aim was to generate discussion to better understand the factors that influence the behavior and social interactions of users. The long-term goal is to develop buildings with information and management systems that minimize energy impact, optimize the use of space and meet the comfort needs and other requirements of occupants.

Researchers from the smart living lab and the companies involved were invited to the event to exchange viewpoints, discuss the matters linked to the theme of this first unconference, raise questions, identify problems and requirements relating to the theme and learn from one another’s perspectives.

The concept of the unconference goes like this: anyone can take to the stage in turn and give their pitch on a question, project or requirement. Following these 2-minute presentations, the participants vote for two of the topics that they would like to see developed further. In a second phase, groups can exchange and explore ideas on the chosen topics and then present their conclusions to the other participants.

A dinner buffet after these discussions allows participants to network with one another.

Of the 28 attendees (a third of whom representing companies), eight made a pitch. Four of these initial pitches were chosen for more in-depth discussion in the group sessions:

1.     L’impact de l’espace de travail sur l’engagement des employés

2.     Are we missing the diversity factor when designing for indoor thermal comfort?

3.     Smart Living Studio: work and live

4.     eSMART, la plateforme complète pour les immeubles durables et connectés

The event was held in English, French and German, and everyone was free to express themselves in one of these three languages. Further unconferences will be arranged on themes of import to the smart living lab.

At the smart living days, politicians, experts and the general public of all ages were asked to consider housing of the future

7-8 October 2016

The festivities were inaugurated by Mr. Beat Vonlanthen (Head of the Canton of Fribourg’s Department of Economic Affairs and Employment who also co-represents the Canton of Fribourg in the Council of States) Mr. Philippe Gillet (EPFL Vice-President), Mr. Jean-Nicolas Aebischer (Director of the School of Engineering and Architecture of Fribourg) and Ms Astrid Epiney (Rector of the University of Fribourg), all of whom represent an essential partner of the smart living lab.

The discussions that followed covered the future building that smart living lab intends to build for its activities, inspiring examples of sustainable architecture and complex projects based on a winning participative and interdisciplinary methodology. The "crowd energy" concept, i.e. giving individual households the possibility of generating their own energy and exchanging or reselling it, was also discussed.

Smart living lab researchers also set up demos for the general public, including watt meters to measure power consumption of household appliances, suggestions on how building occupants can reduce their carbon footprints. There was even a water fountain-based simulation of housing thermodynamics.

The need for rapidly deployable housing solutions that are intelligent, functional, reliable and energy-efficient has become even clearer in view of recent humanitarian concerns. In fact, visitors learned how a shipping container could be converted into viable housing in the event of a disaster.

Optimizing space is not child’s play and yet researchers successfully asked young people to come up with their own ideas on how to transform the Fribourg area, moving livestock to higher pastures and elaborating densification strategies, which is a crucial concern in Switzerland.

Finally, the general public had the chance to discover the open area used for smart living lab experiments. This included a woodworking workshop and impressive sawing machines (a workshop to work with iron!).