Sunday, July 7, 2013

The International Building Exhibition Hamburg: The Vancouver Sun

The Information Centre at IBA_is a floating structure that may be converted to a hostel after the exhibition
One of the reasons I chose Hamburg as a base for my German trip was the summer long IBA_Hamburg. It is not an exhibition in the traditional sense, in that you don't buy tickets and look around. Instead, it's a series of over 60 projects spread out over a part of the city that was quite run down and in need of regeneration. It's also a showcase for the latest in building technologies and housing and building a country which in itself is a showcase of building design!
Below is an illustrated version of my story from yesterday's Vancouver Sun (and thanks to Westcoast Homes editor Barbara Gunn for fitting it in, and a few beneficial edits).  When I return to Vancouver, I hope to further explore the idea of an International Building Exhibition for Vancouver, which might also tie into the creation of an Urban Design Centre, something being promoted by UBC's Leslie Van Duler, Richard Henriquez and others.

Hamburg building exhibition offers lessons for Vancouver

Some innovative housing and cultural initiatives at summer-long event could have benefits closer to home

By Michael Geller, Vancouver Sun July 6, 2013
As I walked up to the BIQ apartment building on Wilhelmsburg Island near downtown Hamburg recently, I could hear its walls gurgling. But this was not due to some flooding accident; it was by design.
Portions of BIQ's five-storey cubular form are clad in glass panels that generate energy using algae as a biomass. Not only do the walls gurgle, they change colour with the growth of the algae.

BIQ is one of the experimental buildings on display at IBA Hamburg, a summer-long international building exhibition in the German waterfront city. It features more than 60 social, cultural and building-related projects and programs that are seen as a blueprint for the 21st century, showing how a city can continue to grow in a socially and ecologically balanced way.

The exhibition is intended not only to showcase innovative projects, but also help transform much of Wilhelmsburg, a long-neglected 35-square-kilometre island community in the Elbe River, near the heart of the city.

All the experimental buildings at the exhibition have been given clever names. BIQ, which is an acronym for Bio Intelligent Quotient, is one of the "smart material houses" that utilize
an array of "intelligent" construction materials and housing technologies.
Other such houses generate and store energy through a combination of landscaped walls, photovoltaic cells, solar thermal energy, higher insulation standards and storage facilities.
The Soft House features a movable textile facade that follows sunlight during the day, similar to a flower. A solar curtain provides sun protection and allows residents to control the amount of light and views.
Certainly a different approach to wood construction compared to what we're used to. One objective was to avoid the use of plastic insulation that requires the use of oil
Another smart material house is the WOODCUBE House, which promotes sustainable wood construction, something not common in Germany and much of Europe. The exterior walls, ceilings and floors are made from wood that has been treated, but without preservatives. Instead of conventional synthetic insulation, a wood-fibre panel is used to achieve a higher-than-average insulation rating.
The exhibition also includes Hybrid Houses, which can adapt to the changing needs of users over time. A building can be an office, a child care facility or seniors' housing.

one of the modular buildings
another modular building with modules set around a solid concrete core
This experiment didn't work according to exhibition designers. It was intended to be a very affordable building in which buyers would finish off their own units...a form of sweat equity.
Smart Price Houses offer affordable construction techniques, including pre-fabrication and innovative wood construction.

Are they floating, or just set in the water?
The Water Houses offer innovative and environmentally friendly concepts for building on and with water. For example, the IBA Dock that serves as the information centre is a most innovative floating structure.
Converted silos converted into new housing
A new office building for the Ministry of Development and Environment that will remain. The colour is achieved with ceramic panels
While some might question the practicality and feasibility of these prototypical buildings, I am reminded of the prototype cars we admire at car shows. They may not be ready for the road today, but their features often become commonplace a decade later. I will not be surprised to see the same happen with some of these innovations.

Given the much higher energy costs in Europe and global concerns about climate change, the exhibition also features a number of energy demonstration projects.

For example, although many of the new buildings generate their own energy, a district energy system has been installed to share this energy with other buildings. It also connects with a power plant located under the fore court of a new government building.

Social initiatives at IBA Hamburg include the Elbe Island Creative Quarter, which encourages artists to tackle themes of local interest; a Kunst Macht Arbeit "Art Creates Work" program that arranges new partnerships between artists and others in creative fields; and a new permanent space for artists and other creatives.
new medical facilities with a ceramic facade that will continue to serve the surrounding communities after the exhibition
Since the area has a highly multiethnic population, there are various cultural diversity projects to assist the integration of different groups in the broader community. One initiative addresses how to design public spaces to appeal equally to different cultures and ethnic groups. Another includes multi-generational and multicultural community gardens.

Although we tend to think of an exhibition as an event where you buy tickets and look around, for over a century in Germany and elsewhere in Europe, international building exhibitions have been used as urban planning tools.

Past examples include exhibitions to improve conditions in the Ruhr region, and the Kreuzberg district of Berlin before the fall of the Berlin Wall. I highlight this since the more I learned about IBA Hamburg, the more I thought about the potential benefits of a similar event in Vancouver.

Firstly, as it is often stated, Vancouver is striving to become the greenest city in the world by 2020. Having spent the past few weeks in Germany, we have a long way to go to beat Hamburg, Freiberg or Munich.

However, like Germany, Vancouver is increasingly recognized as a world leader in green building and planning.

Secondly, just as the Hamburg exhibition is intended to address social and cultural problems and improve living conditions in a neglected part of the city, there is a similar need and opportunity in Vancouver.

Since Expo 86 and the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, considerable money has been spent in an effort to improve the physical environment and lives of those living in the Downtown Eastside.

As I toured around Wilhelmsburg and heard how new innovative housing and social and cultural initiatives are dramatically improving the area, I could imagine how a similar initiative might have corresponding benefits in the DTES.

Yes, such an initiative would require considerable planning effort and money, and most importantly, the co-operation of people in the community, many of whom think their neighbourhood should be left just the way it is, albeit with more social housing.

However, a major European-style International Building Exhibition might just be what Vancouver now needs, as a followup to Expo and the Olympics, both to promote our greenest city aspirations, and help coordinate and accelerate the multitude of planning and development initiatives underway in the DTES.

If Hamburg is anything to go by, the results could be very promising.

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun


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