Green light given to the smart living lab’s future building

To meet the 2050 energy goals by 2022: this is the challenge of the smart living lab’s future building at blueFACTORY. On 19 June 2018, the Grand Council of the Canton of Fribourg approved a refundable loan of 25 millions francs for the construction of the building by 92 votes to 3.

The pioneering building will be sustainable and constantly evolving, and will inlcude laboratories, classrooms, and offices for over a hundred researchers. In this multiple-use context, the building itself will become an object of study in the quest for solutions to reduce power consumption, and the associated greenhouse gas emissions.


Illustrations: Amélie Poncety
Direction: Take Off Productions

The smart living lab is guest of honor at energissima

The center for research on future habitat, the “smart living lab”, will use interactive displays to showcase its areas of competence as well as the NeighborHub, the solar house designed by students and winner of the Solar Decathlon 2017 in Denver, USA. The trade exhibition dedicated to energy solutions and sustainable technologies will take place from 12 to 15 April 2018 in Bulle.

Zero carbon stand

Guest of honor at energissima, the smart living lab will occupy a privileged position at the heart of the exhibition, which will be held from 12 to 15 April 2018 in Bulle. Its stand will showcase research areas related to sustainable architecture: well-being and behaviors, construction technologies, energy systems, interaction and project processes. Occupying almost 50m2, its exhibition space is a subtle reference to the concept of circular economy and provides an example of a “zero carbon” construction. Aiming to reduce its CO2 footprint, the smart living lab has thus designed the structure of its stand to use leftover wooden boards from those used for the construction of the NeighborHub, the solar house that won the Solar Decathlon 2017 in Denver, USA. The stand’s lighting consists entirely of low energy LEDs. Furthermore, the transport of the materials and the journeys of staff will be optimized to ensure a minimal carbon footprint.
Interactively showcasing research projects

Researchers from the smart living lab, which brings together the competences of the Ecole polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), the School of Engineering and Architecture of Fribourg (HEIA-FR) and the University of Fribourg (UNIFR) have gone to extra lengths to showcase their work in an interactive form, thanks to interdisciplinary research project demonstration devices. Among the six proposed exhibits, visitors will discover the board game “Reste SEN”, in which each player becomes a project manager who must hire the most capable professionals when confronted with the various difficulties that occur throughout a construction project, or the display entitled “Build – Unbuild – Repeat”, which allows the visitor to disassemble and reassemble a construction system according to all possible spatial configurations, or the “CROWD ENERGY” model, which visualizes the production, the storage as well as the energy transfer within a neighborhood. The research groups of the smart living lab will be on hand to guide the public through their discovery of these flagship projects. For those expressing further interest, technical factsheets will also be available for delving deeper into center’s research focuses, related to energy efficiency and digitalization.

Hear from the NeighborHub’s designers

Recently reassembled on the site of the blueFACTORY and open to the public on 28-29 April 2018, the solar house NeighborHub will seize the opportunity offered by energissima to the smart living lab by establishing exchanges between its designers and the public. Marilyne Andersen, professor and faculty dean at the EPFL, and president of the scientific commission of the smart living lab, will speak on 12 April at 5:00PM, as part of the official inauguration of the exhibition. On the afternoon of Sunday 15 April, discover the success story behind the NeighborHub during the public conference entitled «Le NeighborHub: la maison solaire suisse gagnante du US Solar Decathlon 2017» (“The NeighborHub: the Swiss solar house, winner of the US solar Decathlon 2017”), during which the audience will hear from Anne-Claude Cosandey, operational director of EPFL Fribourg/smart living lab and Axelle Marchon, student manager in architecture, in charge of the project’s promotion.

The building of the smart living lab before the Grand Council of Fribourg

Press relase of the State of Fribourg on 16 March 2018: the project of the smart living lab's experimental building will be brought before the Grand Council of Fribourg.

The experimental building of the smart living lab will be submitted to the Grand Council of Fribourg at a forthcoming session. Considering the important growth rate of the research center, temporarily hosted in the Blue Hall, the project has been resized and the State Council has already accepted enlarging its surface by 1000 m2, and decided to add 5 Million Swiss Francs for this purpose. Read the full press release (in French or German).


Video soon available in English
Illustrations: Amélie Poncety
Direction: Take Off Productions

The NeighborHub is back

After its success at the international Solar Decathlon 2017 competition in Denver, USA, the NeighborHub is coming back to life at the smart living lab in Fribourg. The Swiss solar house, designed by the students and professors of four schools (EPFL, HEIA-FR, HEAD and UNIFR), is being rebuilt on the blueFACTORY site. The NeighborHub offers alternatives that brings citizens together to encourage them to go towards a more sustainable future. It will open its doors to the public on 28 and 29 April 2018 and thematic visits will follow.

For more than 2 years, 250 students, including 43 solar decathletes present in Denver, 150 supervisors from the professional and academic sectors and nearly 50 partners will have participated in the Swiss Living Challenge project. They designed the solar house NeighborHub, winner of the international sustainable housing competition Solar Decathlon 2017, with 8 podiums out of 10 competitions, including 6 gold medals.

Now, the 70 tons of equipment needed for the reconstruction of the NeighborHub are back in Fribourg, after crossing the Atlantic in twelve containers. The building phase began in mid-February and is led by some of the supervisors and students who were in Denver. It will run for two months.

Ideally located in the innovation district of blueFACTORY, close to the smart living lab that gave birth to it, the solar community house will be a meeting place that brings the local residents together and imagine with them solutions to consume less and better. There will be tools and alternatives around seven levers of action: the use of renewable energies, mobility, water and waste management, food, biodiversity and the choice of materials. Visitors will benefit from advice, interactive activities and conferences on these themes, at the open doors scheduled on 28 and 29 April 2018, and on request.

More information and registration for thematic guided tour

Embodied Carbon in Buildings: Book out now

Catherine De Wolf, postdoctoral researcher at the Structural Xploration Lab, has just co-edited the book "Embodied Carbon in Buildings | Measurement, Management, and Mitigation" (Springer, 2018), which provides a single-source reference for whole life embodied impacts of buildings. The comprehensive and persuasive text, written by over 50 invited experts from across the world, offers an indispensable resource both to newcomers and to established practitioners in the field. Ultimately it provides a persuasive argument as to why embodied impacts are an essential aspect of sustainable built environments.

The book is divided into four sections: measurement, including a strong emphasis on uncertainty analysis, as well as offering practical case studies of individual buildings and a comparison of materials; management, focusing in particular on the perspective of designers and contractors; mitigation, which identifies some specific design strategies as well as challenges; and finally global approaches, six chapters which describe in authoritative detail the ways in which the different regions of the world are tackling the issue.

Read the related article "Accurately measuring embodied carbon in buildings"

Robotics at the smart living lab

On Saturday the Halle Blue of the blueFACTORY at the smart living lab in Fribourg welcomed over 200 people on the occasion of the certificate awarding ceremony of the robotics workshop, organised by the EPFL Science Outreach Department in cooperation with EPFL Fribourg and the « Centre fri-tic », which provided the IT-equipment.

The 24 girls and 24 boys aged 11 to 13 years attended from September to December 2017 in Fribourg the robotics workshop entlitled for the girls Les robots, c’est l’affaire des filles and Construire et programmer un robot for boys. The participants received their certificate from Mrs Anne-Claude Cosandey, Operational Director of the EPFL Fribourg Outpost, and Mrs Farnaz Moser-Boroumand, Director of the EPFL Science Outreach Department. After the official part, the participants showed their parents and relatives the robots they had programmed during the 11 weeks’ workshop.

The interest and the enthusiasm of parents and children as well as the quality of the projects realized during this course session very well illustrate the relevancy of such workshops, which provide an introduction to coding and robotics.

More pictures

Building a nomad pavilion out of old skis

Could recovered materials play a key role in tomorrow’s civil engineering? EPFL researchers set out to answer that question by creating an easily demountable pavilion out of more than 200 reclaimed skis.

Is there a middle road between producing new materials and recycling them? You bet – reusing them! Researchers at the smart living lab in Fribourg came up with a slightly off-the-wall project based on the idea that the stuff we throw away could be the makings of sustainable construction. Guided by this concept, the researchers collected hundreds of old skis, whose mechanical properties proved ideal for building a collapsible pavilion.

"In the construction industry, talk about sustainable building usually revolves around insulation, energy efficiency, materials, recycling and biodegradation,” says Corentin Fivet, who heads EPFL’s Structural Xploration Laboratory (SXL). “But recycling is expensive and biodegradation is not always a feasible option. Another way to avoid producing new materials and use less energy is to repurpose materials as they are."

We need more research on the topic before ensuring its feasibility. But it could, for example, be paired with other existing building methods. Two examples are prefabrication and nomad architecture which uses support structures that can be repeatedly assembled and disassembled. “In our lab, we’re focusing on the support structures used for buildings because conventional structures – between their foundations and roofs – account for most of the eventual waste.”

Elastic gridshell
After some trial and error with various materials – fishing rods came up short in terms of their mechanical properties and supply – they settled on skis. Like many other types of sports equipment, skis are technological wonders. Fivet says: “Skis typically bring together extensive technical refinements and, even if they’ve outlived their original purpose, should be reused.”

One aspect of the project was to determine the structural potential of skis for their new purpose. They had to be flexible in one direction and rigid in the other. They also had to be able to withstand applied loads and perform consistently over time.

“We tested all types of skis – downhill, slalom, cross-country and freeride – and placed them at strategic points of the pavilion depending on their properties,” says Sofia Colabella, another researcher on the project. “Skis, which are made from high-tech materials, turned out to be almost better than wood, which is more commonly used in this type of structure.”

Colabella specializes in elastic gridshells, which are as flexible as metallic netting but become as stiff as a shell when fastened in place. The trick lies in arranging the individual components in two directions, so that they become a very flexible grid of rectangles. The grid is first built flat on the ground, and then the edges of the grid are pulled in. Because the individual modules are flexible, the center of the grid consequently arches upward. Once the structure has obtained its final shape, it is held in place by attaching other components diagonally in certain spots. This makes it stable and stiff. This structure can be used to cover a large area with small components, and it doesn’t require complicated tools or a formwork.

Headed for Lyon this summer
The researchers’ nomad pavilion is made out of 210 skis and held in place by 300 bolts – less than a hundred of which are needed for the reassembly. This project was selected for the Biennale Architecture Lyon, where it will be on display starting this June. The researchers hope to be able to set up their pavilion in different, popular areas of the city over the course of the event.

“Our goal isn’t to make buildings out of skis. It’s to show that we can use uncontrolled and uncontrollable materials with a sufficient level of confidence in the structure’s safety and performance. It’s an exercise, a manifesto, that shows there are some interesting things to be done in this relatively unexplored field,” says Fivet.

Corentin Fivet (project investigator), Sofia Colabella (gridshell designer and worksite manager), Bernardino D'Amico (engineering consultant), Claude-Alain Jacot (construction), Jan Brütting (construction), Valeria Didonna (construction), Endrit Hoxha (Life-cycle analysis)