Making Future with AFRY

Making room for innovation

Climate change will force some industries to make radical adjustments to break this negative trend. The property development industry is one of many sectors that can make a big difference by switching to sustainable methods and materials. But how do we bring about that change? AFRY has been involved in A Working Lab – an initiative that includes innovation in the construction process and challenges the property industry to build more sustainably.

We are building like never before – worldwide over the next 40 years alone, buildings and facilities are expected to be constructed that cover nearly 230 billion square metres. So, it is perhaps not very surprising that construction also accounts for more than a third of energy-related emissions around the globe. Changing course requires comprehensive transformations, but in an industry that is steeped in tradition and is slowmoving, few dare to take the plunge and test new technologies and methods. One exception is A Working Lab, property company Akademiska Hus’ new office building on the grounds of Chalmers University of Technology in central Gothenburg, Sweden, and part of Johanneberg Science Park.

A building that challenges

AFRY has been responsible for various tasks in the construction of the new office building including HVAC design and plumbing, energy coordination, solar cell design, and acoustics.

“Early on in the process we conducted a life cycle assessment of the building’s long-term construction materials. The results of the assessment were one of several important factors affecting Akademiska Hus’ choice to build with wood rather than concrete. A Working Lab is thereby one of the first office buildings in Sweden made of wood. Wood is also a renewable choice that reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 35 percent from the manufacturing stage,” explains Kaia Eichler, Section Manager of Sustainable Building at AFRY.

When Akademiska Hus then started to work more strategically with innovation in the organisation, they saw the opportunity to use the building as a test lab for new innovations. A series of sub-projects have subsequently been initiated that run in parallel with the construction of the office building and where new innovations are tested directly on the building. In close collaboration with the business community and university, 16 different innovation projects are under way in these fields: “flexible and digital learning environments and workplaces”, “value-creating meeting places” and “a climate-adapted and resource-efficient building with a low carbon footprint.”

The results of the innovation projects will later be shared openly with the industry to encourage changes that in the long term can reduce the climate impact of the entire sector. AFRY, which was already involved in the construction process, was also entrusted with contributing expertise to several of these projects as a strategic innovation partner. A few examples of projects are practical application of cooling power storage with phase change materials where cooling energy is stored in salt, a solar cell system with direct current and battery storage for reduced energy losses, and an investigation into the effects of the wooden frame on the building’s acoustics.

“Many of the innovations undergoing tests are based on tried and tested technology. A Working Lab is so exciting because we can show that it is implementable in practice and inspire the industry to try new solutions,” says Kaia Eichler.

To build smart, we need to share our knowledge with the industry fully and freely.

Challenge to integrate innovation process

The new opportunities that present themselves when space is made for innovation have also been the major challenge. The innovation process and the construction process are two highly different work processes that can be difficult to unite. While the construction process is strict and rigid, governed by both regulations and schedules, innovation is a fluid process requiring both time and flexibility for its optimal development. Kaia Eichler has worked in parallel with energy coordination in the construction process and in several of the innovation projects.

“It has definitely been a challenge to integrate the innovation projects in the regular planning. We have had to work with a great deal of uncertainty because we have not known which solutions will emerge from the innovation projects and must then be implemented in the construction process.”

Although the invention of a new technical solution can cause major changes, the innovation doesn’t end there. Innovation can rather be understood as a process in which the end is not possible to determine in advance.

“When we test a new technology or new building material, it doesn’t mean that we have solved everything; instead we evaluate, follow up and check what can be improved for next time. The key is not just to complete a sustainable and innovative building, but to constantly develop new methods and tools that can be of benefit more widely. To build smart, It might not look like it from the outside, but the frame of A Working Lab is made of wood. we need to share our knowledge with the industry fully and freely,” explains Jan Henningsson, Project Manager of A Working Lab at Akademiska Hus.

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