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Interview: "Towards an architecture focused on health and wellbeing"

The New House chinese magazine interviewed the architect Xabier Barrutieta:

Jtart interview to Xabier Barrutieta

Interviewer: New House (The flagship magazine of JTart Publishing - Media Group)


New House: What's the design idea of Orona Ideo’s building form? In term of eco and energy saving, what are its (the form's) advantages or disadvantages?

Xabier Barrutieta: The Zero building is the flagship building of the Orona Ideo – innovation city, a campus developed by the Orona lift manufacturing company composed by various buildings that merge business, research and university. The Zero building houses the corporate headquarters of the company and its form is inspired by the circle, a constant shape in the company’s brand image. The design of the building seeks to evoque elegance, dynamism and elevation through an abstract formal gesture: a hollow cylinder of 90m in diameter, 16m in height and a 15º incline. It dynamically rises from the ground to create a 1,500m2 overhang at the entrance from the city and sinks on the opposite side, allowing passage through and generating a roof-façade for capturing solar energy. This inclination, combined with a good south facing orientation of the building plan, provides the roof a very interesting situation for solar energy collection by means of integrated flat polycrystalline solar panels, and also presents a friendly and eye-catching façade towards the square.

The circular form of the building plan also helps minimize the façade area and enhance the building compactness, as the circle is the shape that embraces the maximum area with the minimum envelope. The inner courtyard produces a hollow space within the building and generates a circular south facing façade where the distribution corridor is located. This area acts as a greenhouse gallery that warms up and permits the passive heating of the building’s most lively area and the higher floors.

The building form has also a part that is sunk in the terrain. Here are located the spaces that need more stable climatic conditions and need no natural light, as the computer rooms, the showroom and the auditorium among others.


New House: What's the material(s) of the 2,000 triangular pixels on the curved facade? Besides creating rich and attractive facade effect, how do they act in saving energy?

Xabier Barrutieta: The first proposed concept design was a “flying disc of stainless steel taking off from the ground”. The façade had some openings that reacted to the environment in a way that would make it fit more sensitively in its place. The design research on the building cladding evolved to the idea of rejecting the steel covering. The reason was that the texture of the material would get lost in the scale of the building, and instead of the brushed steel texture only one bit of information would be observed form far away. Some other solutions as introducing metal textiles into the glass lamination process were tried, but finally we opted for a more versatile solution by inserting a printed PET plastic into the laminated glass. At this point, the idea of dissociating the material and its scale was tackled, and the virtualization of the material opened very interesting ways for the design evolution.

The pixelated façade that follows the geometry of the inclined cylinder is made out of a skin of more than 2,000 triangular pixels composed by three different solutions: opaque, translucent and transparent pixels. They are positioned using a parametric design that takes into account each one’s orientation, the incident to solar radiation, the access to external views and the privacy of the rooms.

With the aid of the superposition of these variations on the unfolded façade drawing, and taking into account the overall transmittance and a reference threshold for heat loss, the solutions for the outer and inner façades are designed, each with a different ratio of openings and opaque areas. This strategy permits tailoring each part of the façade by making it more transparent or more opaque, and fine tuning the building bioclimatic performance by means a simple pixel-game. Besides, the aesthetic outcome of this approach is also very positive, because use of the pixels blur the scale reference of the building and it becomes more sculptural, dynamic and abstract.

The roof can also be considered part of the façade, as its inclined surface is the dominant view from the southern part. More than 1,000 polycrystalline photovoltaic modules are integrated on the inclined rooftop of the Orona Zero building that will have an annual electricity output similar to the electricity consumption of 100 average flats. The downer part of the cylinder that creates the ceiling at the entrance overhang was clad in mirrored aluminum. This design amplified this horizontal space and brings more light in this area that is oriented north and is dominated by the shadow.


New House: Would you please talk in details about the eco technologies/skills used in the building to save energy?

Xabier Barrutieta: The architectural design is particularly sensitive to bioclimatic issues and this approach has shaped most of the architectural solutions. Bioclimatic thinking means taking into account the assets of the place from the early stages of the design to minimize the energy demand and to naturally introduce passive energy measures.

One first interesting aspect comes from the urban design scale, and more specifically the Urban Cell concept, upon which I currently develop my PhD. The study of Urban Cells focuses on a specific urban scale between the building architecture and the neighbourhood. This realm embraces the building and its close urban surrounding, which together open interesting paths of the design and implementation of sustainable urban design solutions. The reality of many new urban fragments of our cities in southern Europe highlights, when compared to vernacular urban fabrics, the increasing deterioration of public space and the loss of urban life. Poor urban design has led to the extreme weakness of a number of essential factors; among which include the diversity of urban morphology, the structure of the public-private membrane and the permeability of the pedestrian network. I can tell this is specially dramatic in some Spanish cities.

The focus on this intermediate scale allows the integrated study of the building and its urban areas jointly addressing some specific aspects of sustainable urbanism: the effective mix of uses, the centralized energy management, creating dense and healthy urban developments, the design of open spaces, the use of road space and parking, optimization of centralized facilities, etc. I think that a new generation of projects based on this scale approach should be promoted to enable integrated designs both for new environmentally friendly developments as well as for urban regeneration programs.

Orona Ideo is a project where I could implement many of these ideas on Urban Cell design. If we take a look at the Zero building, we see that is mainly devoted to office spaces that have large internal energy loads. Due to its occupant density and the use of the electronic equipment that dissipates heat these areas tend to overheat, while, at the same time, they require diffuse light and need to avoid glare. The ground plan on the Zero building places the workplace near the outer façade which is mainly north facing, whereas the south-facing ring-shaped gallery distributes the flow of people and overlooks the building’s central void. This is a space of a more social nature where sun capture is welcome and does not interfere with the work space. The service ring with stairs, lifts, toilets, utility shafts, etc. acts as a buffer between the two areas and structures the depth of the bay, creating different spatial situations due to the building’s inclined geometry. In the rest of the buildings we also introduced some other passive strategies to minimize the use of artificial lighting by introducing natural light as deep as possible into the building, making translucent perforated skins and carefully orienting the spaces according to their use during the day.

In Orona Ideo the Zero Carbon Emissions philosophy has been applied. This approach has led to build a Net Zero Energy Campus, where four buildings are connected to a centralized system. There is a common District Heating-Cooling system powered on 100% renewable energy sources: geothermal, thermal solar and biomass, where cold is produced by means of an absorption machine. The NZEB concept rests on three basic pillars: Low demand building design, 100% renewable energy consumption and the local generation of the consumed energy. Orona Ideo is compliant with these goals and therefore is an interesting benchmark for the standard that is intended to be implemented throughout whole Europe by 2020. Orona Ideo is a step forward in the path this goal and a Living Lab where these future technologies are being tested.


New House: What's the consideration(s) in selecting building materials for this "green" building?

Xabier Barrutieta: The materials are a big issue when we are designing a “green” building. There are many technical aspects you can consider: the life-cycle analysis, the embodied energy, the percentage of recycled material, the volatile components, durability, recyclability… but there also other reasons for choosing a suitable material: the market availability, implementation knowledge, skilled local companies, versatility in construction details, delivery time, price… Ecolabeling of materials and certificated products may also help to make a decision on green materials. There is also one important aspect that needs to be pursued from the design point of view: the balance in the materials pallete. The Orona Ideo project is an ensemble of buildings that they all needed to compose one single and synergetic project through design diversity; it is the same idea as when we observe the main square of a historical city, where different pieces compose a harmonious ensemble. Big projects tend to multiply design solutions and thus also the number of materials used, but this may act against an overall good design. The challenge has been to coordinate the multiple detail solutions to find the most suitable materials while keeping them as few as possible and as sustainable as possible. In conclusion, the decision-making in this realm is complex and there is no perfect solution for the “green buildings” by definition.


New House:What's the design goal(s) you set at the very beginning of the project on energy saving? And what kind of eco effect it achieved upon completion?

Xabier Barrutieta: In the begging of the project we set up a thorough research to spot the most advanced experiences on energy efficiency and management of the nearby countries. As reference for Orona Ideo we set that all buildings had to be A rated and certified Leed Gold and Breeam Excellent.We visited dozens of buildings in order to identify the most interesting systems that were in use for similar requirements in similar climatic conditions. From this study we concluded that the goal of being fully carbon neutral could be achievable, but needed a very coherent and integrated design approach in all phases. Therefore, the architectural design of the buildings and its passive energy concepts must inevitable come together with the energy mix planned in order to be as effective as possible.

Regarding the eco-effect after completion, I would like to underline the importance of bringing to the front line the comfort criteria. The sustainability approach is much more complex to manage that achieving good energy efficiency, and therefore need to face early in the design the aspects connected with the health and wellbeing of the occupants and the building management during its lifetime among others. This may change the general mindset we have been working on the last years, and opens the debate of need to evaluate not only the measurable quantitative aspects, but also the quality of our architectural designs.


New House: Orona IDeO building has achieved LEED Gold and Breeam Excelent certifications and has been selected by the World Green Building Council as benchmark for Health, Wellbeing & Productivity in Offices. Would you like to share with the fellow architects about your successful design experience on this project?

Xabier Barrutieta: Orona IDeO – innovation city is the first project in Spain that has been certified simultaneously both in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) and Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM). This double certification was backed by the fact that the lifts that Orona manufactures also help buildings achieve these certifications. In this regards, it is important to underline that the project was been awarded the First Extraordinary Point for Innovation ever granted by Breeam Spain. The point of innovation has been achieved in the field of energy efficiency and more specifically the requirement ENE 8 related to Lifts. This makes this experience especially strong and connected with the company brand, since the certification of the buildings also contributes to highlight the excellence of the product technology that the owner company manufactures.

The fact that Orona Ideo was benchmarked in the Health, Wellbeing & Productivity in Offices report of the World Green Building Council was a great news, because it praised many quality aspects of the design perceived by the occupants beyond the rational efficiency of the building, and that is very valuable from my point of view. The natural light, the views, the acoustic comfort, the connection with nature and vegetation… are some of the concerning aspects. The interior of the building also recreates different working environments, from desks and closed meeting rooms, to a series of lounge spaces suitable for informal meetings and personal work. These designs have the ability to imprint a special character to the working spaces of the building and also seek to transform the brand culture of the company taking up new ways of working and communicating among employees.


New House: What's your opinion on the development trend of Green Buildings?

Xabier Barrutieta: The awareness on what we call “Green Buildings” is steadily increasing all around the world. We know that we are depleting the limited resources of our planet to build our cities and buildings. Nowadays there are a huge amount of projects and initiatives that claim being green, but there is more vague marketing than desired behind, and there are only a few cases that can proof their experience with real data. These serious experiences can be really valuable to confirm the accuracy of the simulations made in the design phase. But we should not forget that in reality, the energy resource consumption depends on a specific demand that sustains a “comfort model” that is probably wrong, but is something that is rooted in the habits and culture. The way a building is operated and how its comfort requirements are rationalized are key factors to reduce the building impact on the planet by minimizing its resource consumption during its lifetime.

Interesting things are happening in the realm of cities and urban design, and more specifically in developing integrated projects of medium size at Urban Cell scale. This is could be a good way of facing the design of the so called smart cities. It were as composing a big city through many small size self-sustained villages. This approach may permit to create building ensembles that will autonomous and self-regulated, where renewable energy resources, for example, are locally managed and optimized. This Urban Cells could also be responsible for their energy balance and storage, the traffic and parking, the vegetation and urban spaces, and could partially generate their nurturing needs. But this vision is not only a matter of design and technology, but also of regulations and policies that will help manage these kind of integrated projects.

I think that the building technology is developing fast and that in a few years we will see very efficient buildings out there. The challenge will be to make them affordable to the wide public, so that it will be possible to transform the existing buildings at a big scale and in this way lower their impact their on the environment. But this will only be possible if we always keep a good architectural quality, both in terms of aesthetic design and design strategy. Creating boring superefficient boxes is not enough, because people don’t want to live or work in them.


Xabier Barrutieta (1978) is an Architect graduated with honors at the Architecture High School the Basque Country, and also studied in the University of Stuttgart (Germany) and the University of Mendrisio (Switzerland). He worked as a university teacher of graduate and master degree students in the field of Project Design and Sustainability and has been researching in several projects related with sustainable construction and urban design. He also worked for the Basque Regional Spatial Planning Department and the Basque Architects Chamber.

He established his own practice in 2003 and since then he has collaborated with several international firms in the fields of urban and landscape design, architecture and ecotechnologies; Arup and Foster+Partners among others.

His work was selected for the Very Young Spanish Architects exhibit and has been awarded several prizes such as Europan10. Despite of his young age, he has been in charge of the design direction and team management of the project Orona Ideo in San Sebastian, a very innovative project composed by several buildings with very demanding features.

His fields are NZEB & green building design, integrated sustainability solutions and urban transformation projects where applied innovation and best design are key to create forward thinking spaces.

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