Holzbau Forum Garmisch 2017 - A Recap

What an eye opener, and a confirmation that my industry is moving fast. I spent three days at the Forum in Garmisch-Partenkirchen in southern Germany last week, where representatives from over 30 countries came to present or learn their findings in the wood construction industry. At the end of the day my head was always spinning, and many of the presentations challenged my own ideas about building with wood and wood materials.

Some highlights:

An excellent market economist showed us trends in the housing market, and how single-family detached homes are becoming less popular in German cities, larger apartments are taking up that slack, and the phenomenal low-interest-high-return market will be shutting down soon, turning to a phase where more will be investing in existing constructions (renovation market).

A large emphasis was put on the possibilities of pre-fabrication in the housing industry. Where for me, "pre-fab" still had a bit of a bad connotation- not anymore. Prefabrication in wood construction is the future. More exact tolerances, better working conditions for carpenters and laborers and shorter construction periods- sign me up.

Next topic: "Städtische Nachverdichtung" or squeezing more housing into a city. This particular area has a huge potential, and just our luck- it's an absolute market niche for wood construction. Building new apartments on top of old masonry construction takes advantage of existing infrastructure, can be done at a significantly lower price than new construction, and can prevent or slow the endless expansion of suburbs surrounding larger cities. Look for this to be the topic of the next 5 years.

And then of course, the big stuff- twenty story timer constructions, usually with a reinforced concrete core. Just about every country is starting one of these projects at the moment. Michael Green made an appearance to talk about overarching topics in architecture and construction- he's well known as a pioneer in modern wooden high-rise construction and brought the main lecture hall back down to earth with his ideas about how to make globalization work while supporting a local and national economy and identity. Great stuff.

The Passivhaus Exam & Think Like A Raindrop

After weeks of preparing, on Friday I wrote the Passivhausplaner exam. I'm happy to say that I was well prepared for it, after a year of studying building science at the University of Applied Sciences in Rosenheim, Bavaria. The exam is three hours, and consists of multiple choice questions, calculations and an especially tricky design task: design a multi-story passive house with a floor plan, elevations, and HVAC planning in less than an hour. The results should be out before Christmas.

I've always enjoyed exams. Each one is a complete surprise as to what will be asked. I suppose I enjoy the improvisation, having to think quickly on your feet and explain your reasoning as succinctly- and legibly- as possible.

The Passivhaus exam also marks the final written exam of my masters study. From here on out, it's a collection of projects meant to challenge and reinforce the concepts and lessons learned in the last 12 years- I include my carpentry apprenticeship here, because the construction details and knowledge that flow into my CAD drawings today were the same details I built with my hands ten years ago (well, now they're even better).

While working on a steep roof many years ago, an older carpenter said that my work would stand the test of time if I thought like a raindrop. It might seem like a simple piece of advice, but it's the most common error made in construction. So that's why we think like raindrops.

Cheers, Gordon


Have you heard of the Gebäude-Energie-Gesetz?

The idea of the GEG was to unify three of Germany's rulebooks on energy efficiency in buildings: the EnEG, the EnEV, and the EEWärmeG. Harmonizing these epic pieces of draft would've made planning and constructing energy efficient buildings in Germany much easier- I wrote exams on all three, and they're a bit of a mess. In following with the EU-Directive 2010/31/EU, all public buildings constructed after Dec. 31, 2018 must be "nearly zero-energy buildings" (Niedrigstenergiegebäude), all new construction, even private, after Dec. 31, 2020. This is what the german legislature has just given the thumbs-down- a step backwards for energy-efficient planning and construction here. Now, before I make it sound like Germany is a technological backwater in the AEC industry, some of the world's strictest laws on energy efficiency were born here, and the quality of building is (mostly) tremendous. The EnEV(Energy Saving Ordinance) was cranked up a notch in 2016 - yearly primary energy use in new construction must sink 25%- which is really pushing the industry to adapt.

Completing the GEG would have made our lives as building planners here much more simple, but maybe the delay will help iron out the bumps in the final draft.