21 November 2007

Green Housing Estate

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Households and cars currently contribute to more than 50% of all energy consumption in the EU. Innovative energy-efficient architecture can help to bring this percentage down

Our future depends on energy, and as households and cars currently contribute to more than 50% of all energy consumption in the EU, new energy-efficient architecture can be an important approach to bring this percentage down. The European Commission has therefore supported the research project EcoCity, that looks at ways of making your home more ecologically friendly by reducing the energy consumption of private households.

For Rolf Messerschmidt from the architecture bureau Eble in Tübingen, the prime goal was to create an urban setting that makes the car obsolete. “The idea is to bring everything into walking distance,” he says, adding that everybody should be able to live, work, shop and dine in the neighbourhood. But this is not all.

Modern insulation material and the use of solar panels can also be used to reduce the energy cost of the housing itself. And there is probably no better place to experience this implemented on a massive scale than in Solar City, a newly developed suburb in the Austrian town of Linz.

The city’s urban planning authority Gunter Amesberger calls it a milestone in modern urban planning, and he is probably right. The roofs of the buildings all have solar panels, and there are individual gardens attached to most ot the flats. But what is more important: the people seem to love this place.

Harry lives with his family in Solar City, and it takes him less than a minute to step out of the door and walk across to his workplace. He is a bar tender in the restaurant on main square.

Oscar Rams had been living in his former house for 35 years and really never wanted to move. However, when Solar City was built, he decided to leave the past behind. The key attraction to him was the vicinity to all shopping and dining facilites – and even in his wheelchair, he is now able to access all the shops and restaurants in Solar City.

Solar City is an important urban settlement, unique in the world. The size of the development is impressive and so is the acceptance by the people living here. But there are also lessons to be learnt. In Solar City, public transport is far from ideal, as the tram takes a never-ending 40 minutes to the city centre of Linz.

The architects working on the EcoCity project have been studying Solar City in Linz and the Südstadt area in Tübingen, but now prefer to create new homes and workspaces for people in other cities around Europe. They want to create new homes for a new generation, who will have the opportunity to move into an eco-friendly neighbourhood, enjoy lower energy costs and look forward to an improvement in their quality of life.

The ECOCITY project is co-ordinated by the Univeristy of Wien (Austria).

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