Swiss Prime Site turns buildings into material depots

Swiss Prime Site was one of the first Kennedys to support the development of Madaster Switzerland. The largest real estate company listed on the stock exchange in Switzerland immediately understood that registration and documentation of building materials promotes smart design and reuse.

The partnership with Madaster is also perfectly in line with Swiss Prime Site’s sustainability goals and measures, which are based on both the ESG criteria (Environmental, Social and Governance) and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations, the Paris Climate Agreement and the Swiss Government’s Energy Strategy 2050. The company’s sustainability goals even go beyond the national guidelines. Swiss Prime Site aims to achieve CO2 Net Zero before 2040.

As an association board member of Madaster Switzerland, Swiss Prime Site is committed to increasing resource efficiency and gradually transitioning to a circular economy in Switzerland. Circular elements have already been implemented in several new buildings and renovation projects. In this way, the material used in construction can be recycled as much as possible and retained in a closed loop.

The new site for Google in Zurich (Müllerstrasse 16/20) is an outstanding example of an innovative circular project in the context of total refurbishment of an existing building. In July 2021, Swiss Prime Site started construction works on transforming the building, which has a floor area of no fewer than 24,000 m2, into a state-of-the-art facility with the highest possible standard in terms of sustainability. Upon completion at the end of 2023, the renovated building will be SNBS– and Minergie-certified. What makes this renovation project of Switzerland’s largest real estate company so special? And how does Swiss Prime Site intend to accelerate the transition towards a circular economy in Switzerland? We asked Katharina Schwiete, Asset Manager Construction at Swiss Prime Site.

Why is sustainability so important to Swiss Prime Site?

Sustainability is an integral element of Swiss Prime Site’s corporate strategy. As part of our business activities, we are committed to the transformation of an economy and society that builds on the partnerships between different stakeholders and in which commercial success, human well-being and a careful use of natural resources go hand in hand.

How is this expressed?

Since a few years, we are holding on to our internal CO2-reduction guidelines for our upcoming building projects as well as the building operation systems of our properties to achieve carbon neutrality before 2040. In comparison, the Swiss Federation sets its goals for 2050. In many areas, we go further than sustainability labels or provisions by authorities, legislation, and common standards.

What makes Müllerstrasse 16/20 an outstanding example in the field of circular building?

The project constitutes a complete refurbishment of the building, as all components date back to the year of construction and are mostly end of life. The standard fit-out and the tenant fit-out are going to be certified by SNBS, which is quite unique, since it is a renovation and not a new construction. We are very happy to be able to go this path together with our tenant, who will certify this tenant fit-out after hand-over and completion.

 

During the development of the project, we raised the subject of circular construction. At first, we honestly all did not know exactly which direction it would lead us, in the end. But very quickly, we elaborated thousands of unique ideas with the whole team. To name a few examples, the most obvious one being the reuse of the existing aluminium facade in a new manner. We decided to cut the existing facade panels into new shapes and reuse them as cladding for the new façade. The left-over pieces will cover the walls of the entrance area. The concrete balustrades will be transformed into seating furniture. The glass from the old facade will be used to make new interior lamps. Furthermore, the existing fire escape staircases and handrails will also be reused, with only a new surface mounted on the handrail. All walls and ceilings will be painted in a natural, CO2-binding colour, where 1 m2 equals 1 m2 of forest. These are just a few of many more examples.

Why did you choose to register and document all materials and products used in buildings?

When making this decision, we assumed what registering such a big refurbishment project in the Madaster platform would mean. From the very beginning, we felt confident about having the right team joining us on this path.
Being the largest listed real estate company in Switzerland, we are aware of our responsibility. The construction industry is responsible for about 40% of all CO2 emissions. We are convinced that a circular economy is the right answer to reducing resource consumption and CO2 emissions. To this end, the Madaster Platform helps to sharpen one’s mind to elaborate circular economy design ideas, when registering each material that had been used, reused, demolished or discarded.

What are the lessons learned about registering buildings in Madaster?

Since Madaster and circular construction are new in Switzerland, there are no standards to follow, yet. When planning, designing and building in a circular way, whilst registering in Madaster, we also have to learn together and invest in innovation. At Müllerstrasse, we achieved a significant success, which was beyond our expectations. And most importantly, Müllerstrasse has shown that sustainability does not mean an increase in construction costs.

What is needed to accelerate the transition towards a circular economy in Switzerland?

Well, in the end, we all have no other choice. Our resources are not endless. We have to be open to new ideas and innovation. As a real estate company, we have the responsibility to convince stakeholders, such as planners, representatives, authorities and tenants. With the project of Müllerstrasse in Zurich we succeeded. Others will follow.