Courtesy Adobe Stock Hans Engbers

Norwegian architects are on a mission to make buildings energy positive, reports Smithsonian contributor Nathan Hurst. A coalition of architects, engineers, developers and designers called Powerhouse seeks to build buildings that provide more power over the course of their lifetimes than they cost to build, run and demolish.

“To be able to design the buildings that can produce that much energy, that accounts for all the lifetime energy, the design has to change from form follows function to form follows environment,” says Rune Stene, director of technology at Skanska, a contracting firm that is part of Powerhouse. “So you see at least in the new build projects, a different shape on the building. That’s not because it’s Snøhetta that are the architects. It needs to be that way to harvest as much sun as needed for energy production.”

To market a building as a Powerhouse, the design must meet a strict definition of energy-positive. It must take into account every stage of the lifecycle, from transport of materials to construction machinery to steel and aluminum production, and even its eventual demolition. The process and materials must be monitored, and at least two of the consortium must be involved in the project. Part of the equation is constructing a building that is as efficient as possible, and most of the rest of the energy is supplemented by solar panels. It’s possible, though challenging, to make such a venture profitable, says Marius Holm, managing director for ZERO.

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