‘Green’ is more than a colour when talking about buildings

SUSTAINABLE architecture and ‘green buildings’ have become an important component of architects’ and builders’ thinking in many highly-developed parts of the world. While Slovakia lags somewhat behind in this trend, the first shoots of spring growth have been spotted here. Those experts who hope to see the concept take further root expect that recent positive examples that demonstrate that it is worthwhile to be eco-friendly can convince more Slovak builders, architects and developers to give it a try.

SUSTAINABLE architecture and ‘green buildings’ have become an important component of architects’ and builders’ thinking in many highly-developed parts of the world. While Slovakia lags somewhat behind in this trend, the first shoots of spring growth have been spotted here. Those experts who hope to see the concept take further root expect that recent positive examples that demonstrate that it is worthwhile to be eco-friendly can convince more Slovak builders, architects and developers to give it a try.

“Sustainable building – buildings that are energy efficient, ecologically-acceptable and offer a healthy environment – are a rather logical development and are an inevitability,” Vladimíra Bukerová, executive director of the Slovak Green Building Council (SKGBC), told The Slovak Spectator.

Sustainability and use of green technologies is sometimes considered to offer benefits only in terms of energy efficiency, but experts told The Slovak Spectator that the concept is much more complex.

“Sustainable architecture is a holistic term and it comprises all factors of sustainable development such as ecology, economy and human factors,” architect Roman Bahník, CEO of Redesign company, told The Slovak Spectator. He added that in this respect the main priority is not whether a building meets the strictest energy-use parameters but whether it is also friendly to the environment, respects its environmental setting and features above-standard interior space, while also having high architectural values.

Energy efficiency is one of the basic pillars of sustainable building along with its ecological and social facets but Bahník stressed that at the heart of the issue is the overall economy of the building and a reduction of total energy consumption and operating costs by application of materials that contribute to better insulating and thermal characteristics as well as the use of renewable energy sources.

Money, money, money

In general, sustainable architecture and green buildings are perceived to be more expensive than conventional structures. But Bahník pointed out which of the buildings is more expensive over their life is a matter of enlightenment and the approach taken by individuals and institutions involved in the life cycle of the project and its construction.

According to Bahník, sustainable design and construction of green buildings consists of a quality conceptual approach, good analyses and properly checking information at the beginning of a project, incorporating these elements into the project and then properly implementing it. Contrary to this, changing a traditional solution towards one more green during later phases of the project increases the costs above those for a traditional solution.

“Currently we know that green buildings can be constructed at the same or even lower cost than projects built in the traditional way but this requires a systematic and conceptual approach to the project work from the very beginning,” Bahník emphasised.

Bahník is optimistic that more sustainable architecture will take hold in Slovakia.

“Primarily, sustainable architecture in Slovakia requires changes in legislation, in the methodology of land use planning, in public procurement, in creation of norms and in financing, but especially in people’s ways of thinking, their relation to the environment and public issues,” Bahník stated. “Our generation is still scared by the past but I’m optimistic. Nowadays, young people are already looking at this from a different viewpoint and it is worth investing in it.”

Bahník currently sees interest from both the public and experts in green buildings and sustainable architecture and construction but thinks the level is still quite low. He noted a lack of promotion and education in this area and hopes that SKBGC, which he helped to found, can further spread these ideas.

SKGBC, launched only last year, organised Slovakia’s first participation in the annual World Green Building Week in mid September this year.

“Even though Slovakia joined this international initiative for the first time, the idea of energy-efficient, sustainable building resonated among representatives of several of our cities,” Bukerová stated.

Bukerová views the concept of sustainable architecture as suitable for residential real estate projects, office buildings and industrial premises as well as buildings constructed by the public sector, pointing out that public buildings would serve as a positive example because the EU’s Energy Performance of Buildings Directive, which is now being incorporated into Slovak legislation, requires that by 2021 all new buildings must meet near-zero energy standards and public buildings must meet that standard two years earlier.

Certification as promotion

There are several certification schemes that provide building owners and building operators with a framework for identifying and implementing practical and measurable solutions in green building design, construction, operation and maintenance.

Bukerová perceives these certification schemes as a form of promotion for sustainable building.

“One should realise two things – the current situation we are in and what purpose sustainable building certificates serve,” Bukerová said.

She views these certificates as tools to increase quality in the construction sector and reduce negative impacts on the environment while the broader current situation – involving the economic crisis, demographic changes, over-exploitation of energy and natural resources and changes in the structure of the Slovak economy – demands long-term, sustainable, economically well-grounded, energy-saving and eco-friendly solutions.

Buildings constructed according to sustainable designs as required by the prominent certification systems should be one of the first steps that Slovakia takes, according to Bukerová.

Bukerová sees certificates as market tools that help to increase awareness of the advantages of energy-efficient, socially and environmentally targeted design, reduce the negative impacts of building on the environment, and promote complex and integrated design of buildings.

“If all these were deeply rooted in our society, certificates would not be needed at all,” Bukerová stated. “But in the transition period they serve excellently to create positive examples in the market and give an opportunity for comparable assessment of existing buildings… I think that what we today call green buildings with the label of sustainable construction will gradually become the norm.”

The leading certificates

In central Europe the most popular certification schemes are the American LEED, the German-Austrian DGNB and the British BREEAM.

In Slovakia for example, CA IMMO, which is developing the Bratislava Business Center 1 Plus (BBC 1 Plus) office complex, is seeking to receive a LEED certificate, while Bischoff & Compagnons Property Networks Slovakia, the developer of EcoPoint office centre in Košice, is seeking to gain a DGNB certificate.

Bukerová believes that sustainable projects can distinguish themselves from other projects through their high standards in terms of energy efficiency and high-quality interior space.

Real estate experts confirm that developers are showing an increased interest in bringing green buildings to the market. Michaela Horeličanová, a consultant at Colliers International, told the Slovak edition of Forbes magazine in October that rental prices in green buildings could be 8 to 10 percent higher than in traditional buildings but that a tenant would not really experience higher costs because energy usage could decrease by 10 to 20 percent.

“It will be interesting to watch what weight tenants in Bratislava will assign to this global trend,” Horeličanová stated, as quoted by Forbes Slovakia.

Regarding the low number of ‘official’ green buildings in Slovakia, Bukerová said a number of sustainable and eco-friendly buildings have been built in recent years but they did not seek certification even though they would not have had a problem obtaining it.

Bahník believes the first impulses for more sustainable building in Slovakia have come from foreign investors, who have green thinking anchored in their internal statutes, and they are starting to ask for an adequate standard in Slovakia. But he added that there are also private domestic builders who have realised that by using green technologies and employing renewable energy sources they can reduce their buildings’ operating costs by one-half to two-thirds when compared to traditional buildings.

“I believe that the financial side of this matter will be the decisive factor that will affect interest in sustainable architecture,” Bahník opined.

BBC1 Plus in Bratislava and EcoPoint in Košice are mentioned most often as examples of green buildings currently under construction.

Bischoff & Compagnons Property Networks Slovakia decided two years ago that it would exclusively prepare projects of the sustainable-building type.

“Those developers who are currently preparing classical conventional buildings will have problems when selling or renting them,” Rastislav Badalik from Bischoff & Compagnons Property Networks Slovakia, told The Slovak Spectator. “It is as if you were currently preparing production of a small car with fuel consumption of 10 litres [per 100 km].”

Badalik’s company views sustainable building as the only answer to poor interior working environments and high bills for lighting, heating, cooling and maintenance that many business centres suffer from, arguing that a sustainable building saves on energy and maintenance costs and is also built for the human beings who either live or work in it.

“Our ambition has been to bring to the office market the type of building that has not been here so far but which is already well-tested abroad,” Badalik said. “We are convinced that our decision to go in this direction is correct. Time will show whether the Slovak market is ready for this.”

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