three green bullets

Snøhetta inspired by Powerhouse

Norway's first and the world's northernmost energy-positive commercial building is rising up from Brattørkaia in Trondheim. The architect for the building is Snøhetta, the internationally renowned architectural firm.
Picture ofEinar Håndlykken, leader of ZERO, Per Ola Ulseth, Executive Vice President in Skanska Norway, Ole Gustavsen, partner in Snøhetta, Minister of Trade and Industry Trond Giske, Jørgen C. Arentz Rostrup, Executive Vice President in Hydro and Kyrre O
From left, Einar Håndlykken, leader of ZERO, Per Ola Ulseth, Executive Vice President in Skanska Norway, Ole Gustavsen, partner in Snøhetta, Minister of Trade and Industry Trond Giske, Jørgen C. Arentz Rostrup, Executive Vice President in Hydro and Kyrre Olaf Johansen, CEO of Entra Eiendom. (Photo: Skanska/Entra)

The Powerhouse project is both challenging and leading-edge, considering the cold climate of central Norway. A successful outcome can therefore set new standards, both nationally and internationally, for working with buildings that both conserve and produce energy.

The partners in the Powerhouse project are, in addition to Snøhetta, the property management firm Entra Eiendom, the construction company Skanska, the environmental organization ZERO and Hydro. Together they are building the world's northernmost energy-positive commercial buildings. Hydro is contributing its experience with similar projects in Central Europe and the energy-efficient aluminium façade for the building in Trondheim.

Approach:Create something unique

"Basically, we have approached this project like any other: every project is a new opportunity for us to create something unique. It's a natural part of our work to be concerned with what happens in the first phase of a new project, where we focus on understanding all the relevant areas - including framework conditions, financing and partners. Then we try to challenge all the assumptions!" says Ole Gustavsen, partner in Snøhetta.

He compares this project phase to ski jumping. If the inrun and speed is weak, both the distance and landing will be mediocre. "We are committed to jumping well, stretching ourselves as far as we can and making a beautiful landing. The Powerhouse Project is a source of inspiration for us, partly because the project is unusual and partly because the composition of partners is unusual. Together we have defined a common goal and everyone has strived to provide good input at an early stage of the project," says Gustavsen.

"Contact with Hydro, even before the project was established, has also provided inspiration," he adds. "In Norway we lack experience from these types of projects, but Hydro has been able to deliver this and in doing so has made everyone more certain that we will actually succeed," he points out.

Higher ambitions

It is natural to ask about the location chosen for this building, not that Trondheim and Brattørkaia are not central, but because there are places in Norway with more annual hours of sunshine.

"The strongest Norwegian centers of excellence in civil engineering and construction are located in Trondheim. These include NTNU, SINTEF and Bygglab. Powerhouse is going to be so special that we are confident that it will get the attention that the building deserves. It is true that Trondheim is challenging when it comes to climate, but we see that in a positive light. It raises our ambitions and will create interest in other places with similar weather and temperature conditions."

Gustavsen also mentions another ambition for the project: it aims to 'challenge building conventions'. He says that it normally takes a long time to change building codes and technical regulations.

"The current rules are based on, among other things, requirements for light, air and heat for the employees. These are all fine, but there may be a need for more flexible regulations for, among other things, the use of building materials and insulation. The process of updating some of these regulations probably needs to accelerate if we are to get the energy-efficient buildings that the future will demand. If things don't change in the next few years, then new buildings can very quickly become 'outdated'." 

What opportunities does Snøhetta think a project like this will create for applying this knowledge internationally?

Marketable reference project

"I can confirm that the expertise and reference value Powerhouse gives us are important reasons why this project is extremely interesting. We are talking about a type of experience that is highly marketable. The project has also worked well because the participants have a lot of confidence in each other and instill confidence outside the project," says Ole Gustavsen.

"Powerhouse is valuable to us in another way: we want to be an inspiration for the building industry when it comes to energy use. We want to push the envelope further, but see that today's framework conditions do not support this. Very few projects are open for new thinking, even though we know that in the longer term there are significant savings from building in an energy-efficient way.

Updated: March 22, 2012
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