Travel is one of the things that I miss the most, as we here in the US and in many other countries are struggling to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. I miss my family and friends in Canada. I missed spending our wedding anniversary once again in Niagara on the Lake, where my husband and I were married 15 years ago. As difficult as all of that is, keeping everyone safe and healthy is the most important thing.
Even so, there were some big heavy sighs over the past month with the constant stream of Facebook reminders that – one year ago – we were on vacation in the Black Forest in Germany and the Alsace wine region of France.
It is such a beautiful part of the world and I cannot wait to go back there. The architecture, food, landscapes – we enjoyed every moment of it last year. But it’s also a great place to look for innovations in sustainable design. Before we left, I made a list of places that I wanted to see in person. Vauban was near the top of the list.
Germany’s Black Forest is actually well-known for its eco-conscious initiatives, and the City of Freiburg is a sustainability leader. Called Germany’s sunniest city, it has more photovoltaic panels on its buildings than any other city in the country. So it makes perfect sense that you would find a model sustainable neighbourhood there.
Design and planning began in the mid-1990’s, and the first buildings were occupied by around 2000. From the start, Vauban was envisioned as an eco-district where people could live close to work or school, take full advantage of a green transportation network, and live in near-zero or net-zero homes. This walkable, green neighbourhood was built on the site of a former military base, and its development is a model of community-based engagement and participatory planning.
Vauban is so pedestrian-oriented that I felt out of place in a car. It is not common to encounter vehicle traffic there, and there are limited places to park. About 70% of residents don’t have a car, and they really don’t need it. Almost everything you need is within walking (or transit) distance. If residents do have a car, it’s a lot easier to park it in the SolarGarage and walk to your home.
A percentage of homes were built to the German Passivhaus standard, and most others – the “plus energy” houses – were designed to produce more energy than they need. Through years of monitoring, a clear picture of energy consumption shows how well these homes are actually performing: with a benchmark of 65 kWh/m2a, this is actually almost half of Germany’s energy standards for buildings. Most of the homes are well below that target because of the extensive use of on-site renewables. The district heating system – fed by a woodchip-powered combined heat and power generator – helps push the district towards the low-energy and low-carbon targets as well.
Sustainability isn’t only about energy, of course, and Vauban leads in other areas as well, including organic waste composting, sewage treatment, and greywater recycling. It’s a wonderful model of sustainable planning and design, within a city that is committed to reduced impact and improved quality of life. It is also a well-documented case study for Architects who are searching for real-world examples of successful sustainably-designed projects.
A few links for learning more about Vauban: