MVRDV - The fight for Green. MVRDV’s approach to tackling climate change

The fight for Green. MVRDV’s approach to tackling climate change


As it is decision time in Paris we’d like to discuss our part in tackling climate change, considering the construction industry and the built environment have been highlighted as being the source of an estimated third of global CO2 emissions. MVRDV have always considered sustainability to be a key driver in design, stretching far beyond using energy performance to include added-value, resilience, and even the quality of user experience. The idea is to change the habits of consumption, through better and smarter inhabitable spaces, through bridging the gap between cities and nature. Next to this holistic approach, MVRDV has, for a number of years, been applying integrated and realistic concepts which follow BREEAM, LEED and other international assessment methods; most recently proven with the Flower Building achieving China’s highest environmental rating. MVRDV, with The Why Factory, also engages in research to better envision future solutions to sustainability issues. 

With the COP21 United Nations conference on climate change taking place this week, the spotlight is once again on the importance of the industry’s impact on the Earth’s climate. As the 150 Heads of State and Government gather in Paris to discuss the issue on an international level, it is an ideal opportunity for architects to reflect on their responsibility towards building a more sustainable environment. For MVRDV sustainability is a process and an attitude that applies to individual behaviours, buildings, districts and regions. It is more than just limiting the environmental impacts, it is encouraging users to embrace responsible practices to tackle the issue of environmental care from the ground up. As negative messages hardly land, the solutions can be found in better consumption rather than in less consumption.

The Why Factory’s manifest Green Dream (2010) predicts and demands a new rational approach to the climate issue: “we can deal with it like economists deal with the global market, like governments deal with epidemics. The fight for Green can become cool, sober and analytical.” The publication features 22 observations that discuss among others the practice of green washing, the fact that there is enough renewable energy (we just need to use it) and provocative statements such as “Green Buildings are ugly”. Since 2010 however a lot has changed and the construction industry is developing more and more examples of good practice, worldwide. It is just too little, too slow. Politics are needed and the COP21 should mark a strong turning point for the construction industry.

The MVRDV masterplan Bjørvika Barcode in Oslo, Norway, tackled the issue: According to a study by the Norwegian Institute for Transport-Economics the relocation of the 12,500 jobs to the Barcode Masterplan in Oslo-Bjørvika, instead of distributing them throughout the city, saves 6,250 car trips a day worth 110,000 kilometres. The Barcode masterplan reduces the environmental impact of Oslo by 3,210 tonnes CO2 a year and reduces traffic by more than 23 million kilometres. Many buildings in the masterplan, which is located right next to Oslo Central station, have hardly any parking spaces, forcing the staff to make use of public transport. The Seoul Skygarden will tackle the issue by transforming a busy overpass, which cuts through Seoul, into a pedestrianised arboretum. This not only physically removes the cars from the area, thus reducing intercity pollution, but also changes people’s interactions and perception of nature and the city. Due to begin construction in 2016, the project will teach the inhabitants of the city about the flora of their country and increase their interactions with plants to make the environment an ever present and relevant topic in their lives.

Changing people’s experiences with nature in the city is not enough to counteract the negative impact that buildings can have on the environment throughout their life time. MVRDV’s buildings need to be energy efficient and sustainable themselves. The Flower Building in Hongqiao, Shanghai, has achieved a Green Label 3 star rating, the highest possible in China. In a country which has seen such rapid urbanisation, MVRDV has taken the responsibility of the architect to tackle the shared global threat to the environment. An office with BREEAM and LEED qualified designers has the real chance to positively influence the energy balance of buildings, and should do so whenever given the option. This leads to holistic and integrated designs that take sustainability as a basic requirement but not as the only goal. The Pushed Slab can be seen as an example of this, a commercial office building which offers its work force communicative outside spaces whilst being invisibly loaded with energy technology and sustainable construction features, reaching an excellent HQE (French environmental quality calculation) certificate.

In Spijkenisse, Netherlands, the quest for the perfect library was the basis that resulted in a glass roof and yet the building performs better than the already strict Dutch public building’s environmental standard. The Rotterdam Markthal needed an expressive and large hall to attract visitors and has still been turned into the best performing retail centre of the Netherlands, with BREEAM Very Good the building is an example to future shopping malls.

Populations and cities are becoming denser and risk spilling out into the planet’s remaining green spaces. Research projects of The Why Factory, form a knowledge base for many of MVRDV’s designs. Studies look at how to tackle this increase in density, protecting the environment from the overflow from our cities, whilst increasing the quality of life for its inhabitants. Vertical village looks at increasing density in urban spaces whilst improving the quality of life. Whereas Pig City studies how animal rearing for food, which is responsible for around 70% of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon, can be managed in the future by creating vertical farms which take up little ground space but can offer the livestock an improved quality of life, whilst still keeping up with demand for food.

MVRDV’s masterplan Bastide-Niel in Bordeaux, France, takes the environmental benefits of adaptive re-use and proposes a zero energy development which builds on the former barracks and railways. By retaining and renovating the existing structures, significant reductions in environmental damage are achieved as demolitions and new construction are kept to a minimum; a method proven to be effective particularly on an urban scale. To help achieve the environmental goals, the scheme is developed with specific day lighting and natural ventilation strategies to minimise life time impacts of the scheme, as well as a host of pocket gardens and a kilometre deep geothermal heat pump to service the area.

If we see each urban plan, each new piece of architecture, each landscape or infrastructure and each transformation project as a chance to improve the global energy balance, the impact of the built environment will decrease rapidly within just a few decades. On our website we have added a new collection of projects that shows our journey to realising the Green Dream, often buildings and urban plans that don’t look green but participate exemplary in the global fight against climate change.

Hongqiao Flower Building