News from Liebert

Building for the future

Expert interview on CO2-neutral construction and innovative approaches for sustainable properties

Two construction experts meet at Becken's headquarters in Hamburg with a view over the Alster: Becken Development GmbH and Ingenieurbüro Liebert. Joachim Schmidt-Mertens, Managing Director of Becken Development GmbH, Thomas Liebert, Chairman of the Management Board of Ingenieurbüro Liebert and Patrick Merkt, Managing Director of Ingenieurbüro Liebert, talk about CO2-neutral construction and innovative approaches to sustainable property.

They are all united by the pursuit of sustainability and customised solutions. What is important in sustainable property project developments today?
Schmidt-Mertens: As project developers, we have a vision for truly sustainable buildings that have a positive impact on the environment. It is of great benefit that we know both the market and the needs of future users well. In order to construct sustainable buildings, we rely on partners who share our vision, question old habits and think through innovative and new approaches together with us. I can say with conviction that LIEBERT is such a partner for us. With their wealth of knowledge and experience, they implement jointly developed
creative ideas and future-orientated goals into practice. Even if vision and creative ideas alone are not enough, I believe that a strong will to change is also needed - and I see this at LIEBERT. 
Note: It's great to have someone at your side who supports your vision and drives it forward. There is an understanding of the basic principles, ambitious goals are set - and the implementation works accordingly. 

In a few words, what characterises the collaboration between Becken and LIEBERT?
Schmidt-Mertens: In short, we are united by our innovative strength. Our many years of experience - Becken with more than 45 years of dynamic development and LIEBERT with more than 25 years - is an invaluable advantage. We can therefore draw on tried and tested methods and at the same time boldly break new ground. This allows us at Becken to push the boundaries of what is possible every day and open up new horizons, and LIEBERT is a good partner on this journey.
Liebert: I can only confirm that. I'll go into another aspect and describe it like this: We are united by our "green DNA". For me, that's what makes our collaboration so 
pleasant and, above all, productive. Our shared understanding and our endeavours to take a thoroughly unconventional approach allow us to move forward with determination.

What does the cradle-to-cradle ecological approach mean to consumers and non-experts? 
Schmidt-Mertens: It's an important topic in the construction industry. Cradle-to-cradle (C2C) is not a certificate, but a basic principle that describes a closed-loop economy in which no more waste products are produced. We have defined what sustainability means for our developments. Pursuing the C2C principle is an essential part of this. Even more central for us in this context, however, is the basic idea that we develop our projects for eternity. We have a number of projects in our portfolio that still work just as well today as they did 45 years ago. The decisive factors here are the property location, the functionality and the architecture. If buildings are well developed and well planned, they can be used and utilised flexibly. They then fulfil the most diverse requirements of large users with open-plan offices or, alternatively, individual rooms for smaller users and units; the focus is on flexibility. Special use areas such as large canteens can be integrated just as easily as modern sports rooms or a small bistro. If it is to stand for eternity, i.e. if demolition is no longer necessary and no more waste products are to be produced, the resources must also be optimised.

In this context, it may also be that designs made from the sustainable building material wood are not always the most sustainable solution. For example, wood is sensitive to moisture and fire; wooden ceiling constructions do not have good sound insulation properties, etc. If, for example, all of this has to be compensated for by additional measures with non-sustainable building materials, it should be considered whether an alternative to timber should be used from the outset.
What additional costs are associated with sustainable construction?
Schmidt-Mertens: It is no longer possible to avoid the additional costs. Spending more on the environment in construction always pays off in the long term. The important thing is to follow the basic principle of cradle-to-cradle
and omit materials that are unnecessary or contaminate raw materials, such as unnecessary additives in concrete. The current social change, the pandemic and the Ukraine conflict are also having an impact on the market and construction standards in Germany.Long before the conflict in Ukraine began, we had already decided that our projects would be more energy-efficientthan required by the GEG (Building Energy Act):Always at least to the Efficiency House or Building EG/ EH 55 standard or better.At the beginning of the Ukraine crisis and the associated concerns about the energy supply, the government then postulated the Efficiency House/Building EG 55 as the standard. For our project developments, whether new builds or refurbishments, we now aim to realise them to energy efficiency standard EG/EH 40:Properties are planned for several years and then used for decades.We prefer to think two steps ahead.

What does the future hold for the construction industry and what are the other trends?
Schmidt-Mertens: In all probability, the hotspots of the working world will remain the city centres, where space for new buildings is limited. In Hamburg, for example, there are around 10,000 existing properties for every ten new construction projects. The focus should therefore shift towards the refurbishment of existing properties. This is particularly expedient from the point of view of so-called stored grey energy, as a large part of the environmental impact such as greenhouse gases, thinning of the ozone layer, acidification etc. results from the construction and demolition phase. In my opinion, the aspect of grey energy must be further established from a sustainability perspective. Up to now, the sustainability debate has primarily been conducted on the basis of ongoing property
property operations and has not been extended to the burdens from the construction or demolition phase. In the future, photovoltaics will also be expanded and used more, for example integrated into façade elements or windows. For example, larger areas can be made available for the absorption of solar energy. If PV systems are no longer installed exclusively on the roof, roofs can offer users and the environment further added value with green roof gardens, for example. This is not a novelty or innovation, but it must finally be applied across the board, then such measures will have a corresponding impact.

And infrastructure is another important topic - but discussing this here would probably go beyond the scope of our interview (laughs). 
Liebert: There is still a lot of untapped potential in the area of resource conservation and self-sufficient buildings. In future, there will be more additions and conversions to existing buildings. Many things will be restructured due to the generational change and the impact of the pandemic on the world of work, which will place new demands on office and residential buildings. In order to counteract the lack of space in urban areas, street superstructures can be established. We are currently involved in the development of a residential development as a bridge building over motorways, which will be scalable worldwide. 

As this residential development is to be realised anywhere in the world and independent of the public supply, we developed a visionary concept. This enables a completely self-sufficient supply without external energy and media. That is feasible and that is the future. We have been committed to sustainable buildings for 25 years and are actively realising them. Our aim is to create energy-, CO₂- and climate-positive buildings. 

Is sustainable construction still a niche or already the standard?
Schmidt-Mertens: The industry has already developed to such an extent that even banks are now checking whether sustainable planning and construction is taking place as part of the financing process. Nevertheless, in some cases we have to invest large sums of money, energy and labour in order to drive forward our own visions. We need to invest much more time in research and innovation in order to find customised solutions.

What advice or recommendations would you give based on your professional experience over the last few decades?
Liebert: You have to achieve what no one else has achieved so far. You have to be courageous, think big and think ahead. If you stop improving, you've stopped being good - that's my philosophy.
Remember: it doesn't help to be a specialist and look at one part; you always have to see the big picture. You shouldn't think in terms of problems, but in terms of solutions. It is important,
to understand interrelationships and to accept new input. 

You should maintain this curiosity and openness.
Schmidt-Mertens: The first thing is to learn how to build. This provides the basis for being able to have a dialogue with the specialist planners. Building is not rocket science, it's a craft. The second: Always being two steps ahead in the area of sustainability: projects run over a long period of time: what is one step ahead during planning is already one step behind by the time they are completed. It is important to recognise the drivers of change and innovation in good time, use them to your advantage and thus always be several steps ahead.


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