Linz and “SolarCity”, sustainability under the sun

29 Jan 2015

Among the most complex territorial zoning actions of the municipal administration, there is the town planning development, that has an important and critical role for the future and wellbeing of the society. Building new houses in Italy is considered as an income source for the empty funds of the municipality, which do not allow long-term recovery and safeguard of the territory.

New houses have two meanings for the administration: new public works funds and the possibility to use the taxes paid for the buildings. This happened in the golden years of the land speculation, but it will hardly happen again in the future. The real problem is though that the wild speculation that gave us many unused buildings, that does not foster the social life, and have low energy performances, so are not market attractive.

But there are some communities that stands out for their urban development projects, where citizens can participate to find and solve problems: there are some cases in Turin, Milan, Bologna, Modena, and recently also in Brescia, with projects Violino and Terzo Settore.

The results are highly effective for their costs and efficiency, and the examples of some municipalities begin to show some results. On an international level, a very important example is Linz with its SolarCity, fundamental for the time it was put in place, and for its results.

The project is based on the project management role played since the beginning by the municipal administration, but also on the long-sightedness of its choices. The administration sold at cheap prices this areas to some non-profit organizations, like the Austrian Federation of Non-Profit Housing Associations, established in 1946 and formed by other non-profit social businesses, that realize low prices houses. They invested money in the increase of sustainability, comfort and social value of buildings. Energy saving, use of the renewable energy sources, educational value and low prices are the real “pillars” of these new houses.

The architectural projecting phase began in 1994 and focused on the Pichling area (7 km south of the city centre). It was conducted by the Austrian urban designer Roland Rainer, together with important names like Thomas Herzog, Richard Rogers, Renzo Piano, Norman Foster, Norbert Kaiser and the landscape architect Peter Latz. This artists went under the name READ, acronym forRenewable Energies Architecture and Design. Thanks also to European funds, between 1996 and 1998, the city of Linz created an architectural competition for the completion of this project.

The first inhabitants settle in 2003, so essential services and shops were created, together with public transport and everything was needed. 4000 people live today in this neighborhood, but it is projected to host 25000 people. The orientation of buildings maximize the solar irradiance, the houses are maximum 4 floors high and the green areas ensure high comfort and livability levels.

Commercial and public buildings too are realized according to precise passive criterion, where the sun is not only a source for heat and light, but also a power source for the photovoltaic and solar plants. The most used material is wood, it is easy to find, recyclable and has high energy performances. It allowed, together with an accurate project, the realization of buildings with a reduced energy consumption. To strengthen the concept of sustainability, the energy demand of this new buildings must not be higher than 44kWh/square meters per year, and today the demand reached 36kWh/square meters per year.

Aesthetic is also important: it personalizes every block and allows a better integration of inhabitants, for a major sense of belonging. Public transport can be easily reached from houses, and perfectly link SolarCity to the city of Linz and to the surrounding lakes, with a reduction in emissions coming from the private transport.

The core of SolarCity is a complex underground network of power centers and plants that use solar energy to produce hot water and electricity (about 50% of energy requirement is produced by photovoltaic panels). The 85% of the total requirement is covered by renewable energy sources, thanks also to a district heating network, connected to a recent biomass thermal power plant. The underground systems can also regulate other functions, like the separation of waste water, that are filtered and sent to the surrounding agricultural fields.

The first important aspect for SolarCity to be successful are the multifunctional areas, defined by Herzog as “social magnets: real interactive areas, with services and public places, like libraries, schools, health facilities, banks and shops. Every “social magnet” is easy to reach on foot or with public transports, with a reduced use of private cars.

The second and maybe fundamental aspect regards the inhabitants’ behavior, who must actively contribute to the private and public spaces management. The citizens are fundamental for the good result of SolarCity: other famous and futuristic projects failed for the bad behavior of their inhabitants, but also for the negligence of the administration.

[Foto by Linz]

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