Social housing in Zurich for sustainable lifestyle

“The project in the Hunziker-Areal is all about a new departure for planners, where aesthetic sit alongside ethics, ecology sits alongside economics and social welfare sits alongside the lounge itself”.

While attending the Sustainable Built Environment conference in Zurich last June, I was lucky enough to join the site visit to the “more than housing” living lab – as I like to call it – guided by Andreas Hofer, senior construction manager involved in the project since its early creation.

As we walk into the neighborhood the feeling of new immediately arises. Unusual materials and architectural choices paint the facades of the buildings that surround a big silent, but smiling, square. The children playing and the people engaged dispense a deep sense of community embodied in the shared spaces. Mehr als wohnen is a Zurich neighborhood, home to approximately 1,300 residents since 2015. Initiated and founded by 35 housing cooperatives in Zurich, it is based on the sustainability principles of the “2000 Watt society”, striving for affordability, social diversity and community engagement.

Why did I find it so special and feel the need to tell to folks interested in sustainability about it? Here are my 3 why’s.

1. A car-less life
The inhabitants of this brand new neighborhood – living in number 1 city on the list of the wealthiest ones with the highest GDP per capita in 2015 and 2014 – committed to a life without car. The plots offer different solutions for bike parking; in some buildings there are common parking zones divided by floor, while in others you can find individual spots next to the flat entrance door. There is a “mobility station” where bikes can be rented and it is possible to make use of a car-sharing service.
It is rumored that a long debate took place between architectural firms working on the plan and the municipality, since by regulation it is not allowed to plan a district without enough parking plots for every living unit.

2. Pre, Peri & Post Community Engagement
The second aspect that caught my attention is the structure of the housing cooperative in itself. Probably familiar to many but very new to me, is the concept of ownership while being a tenant. The inhabitants pay a rent but they are also shareholders, buying a part of the neighborhood.

The sense of community is enhanced also in the way the planning process was designed. During the architectural competition, residents and neighbors were allowed to interact with the jury, engaging in a process of dialogue and several participatory sessions that aimed to establish the future principles of cohabitation in the neighborhood. Since the architectural competition, there was a joint effort to bring together future residents, neighbors and public entities through regular events and share information about the progress of the project.

In the cooperative there is currently a reception where inhabitants can refer and where the staff is able to speak different languages to listen and accommodate the needs of the community. But how can they afford such services? Among others, the cooperative built a hotel where guest rooms are available to a special price for the community. In this way the inhabitants who wish to have guests can afford it. The empty rooms are then advertised online at a competitive price and the profit goes into the cooperative budget devoted to provide the services needed. In the district you can find several shops, daycare center, restaurant, bakery, hairdresser and an exhibition space. Other workspaces and office for the 10 people employed are also part of the neighborhood.

3. Innovation as financial mean
Hofer tells that nearly every house has a different ventilation system. This is because over thousands companies were invited to provide and test their prototypes. The neighborhood is a living lab where currently new technologies are functioning and are under study, helping improving high-tech needed to serve sustainable architecture.

More than housing: Cooperative Planning – a case study in Zurich

A+256 Zurich Pilootproject “Meer dan wonen”

Tom Bosschaert leader in sustainable thinking

Energy Lecture in Groningen

The Energy Academy Europe is periodically organizing lectures addressing the topic of energy. On the 10th of March it was the turn of Tom Bosschaert, young inspiring entrepreneur, director of EXCEPT Integrated Sustainability.

Bosschaert was elected number 38 of most influential sustainability professionals in the Netherlands in 2014 by Trouw, and ranked 21 on the Dutch Sustainable Real Estate awards. This lecture was much more than an “energy lecture”. This lecture was discussing sustainability in all the possible ways one can think of today.

For Bosschaert, the starting point is to contribute to a better word: “Medias are loaded with issues related to health, politics, poverty, environment and much more and we could either be passive or acting on it. What if there was a way to connect all these issue and finding a solution to all problems?

“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.” [John Muir]

The impact of one single action
Bosschaert showed the video How wolves change the river reporting the transformation of Yellowstone National Park in the United States that occurred since mid-1990s, after wolves were reintroduced being absent for nearly 70 years. “The most remarkable trophic cascade occurred, affecting hundreds of other species.” We have the power to procure great damage to a system or great benefit with one simple act.

Bosschaert’s driving question is: “How can we transform our companies, cities and society to become flourishing and resilient without creating more problems?

“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” [Albert Einstein]

Why are we talking about energy when thinking of sustainability?
According to Bosschaert’s experience, sustainability is contextual and culture dependent. “In Europe, when we talk about sustainability we think about energy, in the US, citizens think about environment, while in Asia they think about human justice.

How would you define sustainability?
Bosschaert asked to the students to judge whether a Coca-Cola can is sustainable or not. The discussion got interesting and controversial until it became clear that sustainability is not a property of an object. It makes sense to talk about sustainability when referring to a system. The question should therefore be: Does a Coca-Cola can impact the sustainability of the system?

Symbiosis in Development
As wide as it might seem, EXCEPT truly aims at addressing all issues of sustainability in their projects. “How do we assure we take into account all the effects of our actions? How do we find out the most effective real solutions in our complex world?” EXCEPT’ s answer to these questions is Symbiosis in Development (SID), a framework to guide designers and decision makers in incorporating problems beyond material and energy use, including social, ecological, economic, and political issues.

According to SID, “sustainability is a state of a complex, dynamic system. In this state a system can continue to flourish without leading to its internal collapse or requiring inputs from outside its defined system boundaries. Applied to our civilization, this state is consistent with an equitable and healthy society, as well as thriving ecosystem and a beautiful planet.

You can read more about EXEPT and Symbiosis in Development at

A motivating lecture by the founder of “follow this”

On the 19th of November Mark van Baal, energy journalist and founder of follow this, gave an interactive lecture at the Delft University of Technology, presenting his mission and the solution he proposes to change the world together.

Van Baal graduated at the same university in ‘94 in Mechanical Engineering where he learned to design machines, without knowing what was their impact on the environment. He could not imagine that 20 years later he would have become an activist in the energy transition sector. “How do you see the world in 20 years?” he asks to the students. In the audience, many believe the world can rely on renewable energy but few have the confidence to state that it really will.

“The stone age came to an end not because of a lack of stone and the same will happen for oil –reporting the famous Yamani’s quote– the big energy market players have no choice but adapting their business model to this transition”.

Van Baal continues by talking to students about disruptive innovation, believing this is going to affect the great leaders of the current energy market. New markets and values are being created for the energy sector and leading companies like Shell can adopt them, speeding up the energy transition rather than slowing it down. According to van Baal, if Shell does not change its business model, they are going to make a mistake to regret. We might see this transition in less than 10 years; similarly to the one that started in The Netherlands when in 1959 the largest natural gas field of Europe was found in the Groningen province. He also advises students to work for companies like Shell because of the big impact they can have.

Van Baal concludes his lecture by comparing this transition to the Moon mission. It seemed impossible to walk on the Moon until we did it; despite that, someone believed it was possible. Unlike the Moon mission of the last century, this new mission is a necessity, van Baal explains.

“Engineers of the future, you can make it happen, you know technology and you are creative”. So go ahead, believe in it and make this transition become true!


With follow this you can buy Shell shares. Follow this will accomplish its mission when Shell will decide to invest only in sustainable energy or using its profit to become entirely sustainable by 2030.

To know more about Follow this and how you can contribute visit the official page:


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