The Sustainable City

The Sustainable City

On the edge of the desert in Dubai an unique property is arising. Diamond Developers’ The Sustainable City is a residential area and designed to be net zero-energy. Quite an accomplishment when you know Dubai’s energy consumption is one of the highest in the world and with temperatures around 50 degrees celsius in the summer definitely not tempting to turn of the airconditioning. Yet the developers found that the costs of building are lower as compared to traditional properties.

Powered by solar
40.000 megawatt hour solar energy is generated daily by 40.000 solar panels, fitted on the carparks and all the homes. The city was turend on less then a year ago and already during the first winter net-zero was realised.

Holistic approach
Unique about the Sustainable City is that it not only looks at the traditional sustainable aspects like water, energy, waste and cooling (which all are handled well) but focusses on three key aspects: social, economic & environmental sustainability. The commercial mall which is home to various shops, a nursery, supermarket and cafe’s are all partly owned by the residents. With this business model they don’t need to pay for maintenance & service fees, costs which easily can go sky-high Dubai.

Electric Vehicles
Electric cars are also part of cities masterplan to later become carbon neutral. Residents are pushed to go electric by offering them a 40.000 Dirham (€10.000) incentive on the purchase of their first electric vehicle.
The property is car-free. Cars can be left behind (while charging on solar power) at the carpark from where electric buggy’s transport residents through the city.

Building a city like this doesn’t come without challenges. In below’s interview with Karim El-Jisr, Director of the Sustainable city he explains the hurdles they needed to take and goes more in depth in the various sustainable aspects.

The Sustainable City | InterviewThe Sustainable City | Interview

UN City (United Nations)

UN City

The United Nations doesn’t need much introduction. The organization is maintaining international peace and security, developing friendly relations among nations and promoting social progress, better living standards and human rights since 1945.

In Copenhagen many different branches of the UN such as UNHCR, Unicef and WHO where spread over the city. After the Millennium Summit it was decided that all ten in Copenhagen based UN agencies where moved into one compound. This will not only obtain savings on economic scale but also facilitate the co-operation between the different agencies. The plans where formed in 2002, in 2005 the location Marmormolen was decided and in 2013 UN City was put into operation. The location houses around 1.300 employees from 100 different nationalities.
A bit further, in the container port, a second building (Campus 2) was constructed. This is UNICEF’s new state of the art high bay warehouse and is currently the largest humanitarian warehouse in the world.

Sustainable building

What got my interest in this building is that it received many awards for their sustainable efforts. Amongst the awards are the European Commission’s Green Building Award for New Buildings and the platinum Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification which is one of the most popular green building certification programs used worldwide. UN City is one the most sustainable buildings of it’s kind in Scandinavia. Because of their involvement with LEED they have looked at sustainability since the drawings were being made and they looked at 5 environmental categories: Sustainable Sites, Water Efficiency, Energy and Atmosphere, Materials and Resources & Indoor Environmental Quality plus an additional category: Innovation in Design. From this categories I will highlight some of the most interesting ones.


From solar panels to sea water cooling and external metal blinds to regulate light and heat. UN City shows wat can be achieved.
– UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon



UN City captures around 3 million liters of rain water each year. This is enough to flush the toilets 5300 times a day. Low-flow taps and toilets reduce the water usage. Combined, the use of innovative taps, toilets and rainwater reduce the consumption of water in the building’s kitchens, toilets and showers by 61%.

Use of natural resources

Sophisticated solar shade’s on the building’s facade can be openend and closed to either trap or reflect heat from the sun. UN City is entirely ventilated with filtered, outside air. Cold sea water is used to cool the building down.
To produce electricity 1.400 solar panels are installed on the roof. The panels produce 297,000 kWh/year, this significantly reduces the electricity needed from the grid.
The roof of the UN City has been coated with a white, recyclable membrane, made from plant-based materials. The environmentally-friendly coating reflects much more sunlight than the usual dark layer.

UN City Solar Panels

Cycling & accessibility  

To reduce pollution from transportation, UN City encourages cycling to work. There are 680 bicycle racks across the site, including 225 which are covered, and a further 115 in the basement. Fifteen showers and changing rooms are also available to freshen up after your ride. To ensure access for everyone, parking spaces for people with disabilities can be found in front of the lobby.


UN City recycles its waste wherever possible. Organic waste from the canteen is pumped through a vacuum system to a container in the basement. This food-based waste is then removed by a company that recycles it for use as fertilizer or to create biogas. Other materials, such as paper, cardboard, glass, plastic and metal, are separated in different bins to be collected and recycled by the City of Copenhagen.

The tour through the building was most interesting. I haven’t been in a building of this size and being it the United Nations was special. It was interesting to learn that a a location of this size can reduce their carbon footprint enormously.

Source: interview with Flemming Johannesen and UN City website



Building Tomorrow

Building Tomorrow is an initiative by Darius Fleming and 8 other students at the VIA University in Horsens, Denmark. They where inspired by the earthship movement and especially the documentary the Garbage Warrior by Michael Reynolds. An earthship is an off-grid house made from recycled materials. Darius put a team together with the right people. Architects, designers, project leaders etc. They convinced their uni and they allowed them to build at their site. So the adventure began. It took them two years of designing and another year to build it.

To make the accommodation completely off-grid they needed a few things: electricity which comes from wind turbines and solar panels. Heating, this comes mainly from the sun. The house is designed towards the sun so it warms and cools itself. And then there is water. Water is collected by rain and filtered by plants in the building.
A small side note has to be made that the current house still takes some energy from the network as it’s not big enough to produce all the power on it’s own but version 2.0 is going to be fully off-grid.

During the process Darius and his teammates learned a lot, they had no experience and did a lot of things that hadn’t been done before. The current house is the first prototype and with their experiences from the last years and their mistakes they will build a new Building Tomorrow.

Watch the full interview with Darius for all information about this project.


Building TomorrowBuilding Tomorrow




Janbeck*s FAIRhaus

Janbeck’s Fairhouse is a sustainable accommodation in Gelting, Germany near the Baltic sea and the Danish border. It is owned by Uta & Stephan Janbeck. In 2002 they bought this old farm with the goal to make a sustainable hotel.

Energy, heat, water and food are the most important things when it comes to housing. When they started this project in 2002 they already tried to make all those aspects as sustainable as possible. And it was a big challenge as it was an old farm with poor isolation.


They produce energy with 110M2 solar panels and 20M2 solar thermal collectors. They have a big battery of 42KWh to store energy where 21KWh is used effectively to not damage the battery. An intelligent energy system makes a balance of when to give back energy to the grid and when to take energy from it. Last year the Fairhouse needed 25.336KWh. With the solar panels they produce 13.000 KWh annually, 27.000KWh is produced by the two heat and power plants. In total 41.080 KWh was produced last year. 20.000 KWh was provided back to the grid and they only took 4.838 KWh from it, which is quite impressive considering the size of the accommodation.

The Fairhause’s car fleet consists of three electric cars: a Zoe, a Think City and what they call the ‘E-Wolf’: an converted Fiat Panda. The cars can be charged with type 2, CEE 32A and 16A on 43KWh max and is free for customers.


The water in the Fairhouse has four life cycles, fresh from the shower is collected into a drain where the solid water is naturally cleaned by wastewater treatment plants and becoming liquid. The liquid water then goes to a wetland where it slowly drops into the ground and as it goes through sand and plants it gets clean to the level of bathing water. The 2nd lifecycle is used to flush the toilets, the third for the washing machine and the fourth and final lifecycle for gardening. It takes two years for the solid water to get a clean, the cycle of liquid water only a day. This way around 50% of the water is reused. Sometimes water from the regular system is used as back-up, last year it was not necessary, in 2014 only one week.


The food served at breakfast is organic and locally produced. The owner Uta makes her own jams and bread. The breakfast is well portioned and rather refilled on request instead of thrown away. Plastic won’t be found as they only use glass bottles which are re-used. Coffee waste is used as a barrier to keep snails away from the garden.

Recycling/ Upcycling

The many necessities used throughout the apartments are recycled or upcycled. Old towels are recycled to bathmaths, old sheets to roll bags.

Janbeck’s Fairhouse has been very interesting for me as this was really the first time that I saw that it’s possible to reduce the carbon footprint to nearby 0. I thought it was hard for a normal house but for a accommodation of this size I couldn’t even imagine being it this impressive. It really is an eyeopener and a great example of how sustainability in the recreation sector can be applied.



The Wohnwagon (literary translated: living wagon) is best described as an off-grid caravan. It’s a 25 square meters living unit and provides all the utilities you need and has the same comfort as a normal house or flat. The makers Theresa Steiningen and Christian Frantal wanted to make a political and philosophical statement about how the future of sustainable living could look like. They started this idea a couple of years ago and made it reality.

What is special about the Wohnwagon is that all the aspects (heating, energy production, water filtration) are sustainable.  Solar panels to power the house with electricity, a battery to store the energy, natural insulation and a composting toilets are just a few of the Wagon’s impressive green list. After two years of use the energy needed to produce the Wagon (coming from the production of the solar panels, batteries etc) is reduced to zero and you life Co2 positive.

Wohnwagon Inside

The costs of a Wohnwagon are between €50.000 and €150.000. The costs are high because high quality materials are being used which are all produced locally. For example for the insulation local sheep wool has been used which are more expensive then the chemical insulation you would normally get. A well-thought decision as the makers believe that the future of living has to be fully sustainable.


Interview | WohnwagonInterview | Wohnwagon

Magdas Hotel

Magdas Hotel

When you will stay at the Magdas Hotel as a guest, you won’t notice quickly that there is something special going on here. From the outside it looks like any other hotel and the rooms, although they are nicely decorated, don’t stand out of the normal picture. It’s the social aspect that is unique in this business.

The Hotel was founded by Caritas (known as Cordaid in some countries), a social NGO. They founded the Magdas three years ago. Their goalswas not to maximize profit but to maximize openess and humanity. All the employees are refugees who come from 14 different nations, all with different backgrounds. The Magdas develops these people and giving them job opportunities. They get long-term contracts and many possibilities to develop themselves and get certificates. They are free to leave whenever they want and take the certificates with them so they can start working in another place.

Sustainability has an huge social aspect and this is a great example of it. The Magdas also took care about the other parts of sustainability. In the beginning they had 1.5 million euro to open the hotel, which is almost nothing in this industry. Normally a hotel can spend 10.000 euro to rebuild a room, Magdas had €1.500 and they needed to think of creative ways to make it comfortable. Together with an up-cycling artist they made a plan. As the location used to be an home for the elderly, there was already furniture. The artist took everything out of the room and made new chairs, tables and closets from it. Other furniture was gathered with an crowdsourcing campaign. This makes every single room unique.

The slogan of the Magdas is “An hotel like no other” and this is very true. If you could chose, wouldn’t you pick this hotel over any other, standard hotel? If ever in Vienna, be sure to visit this hotel. They deserve your business so much more than any regular standard hotel.

I interviewed Sarah Barci, marketing manager of the hotel. She talks about how it all started, the problems they had to start it and their future goals.

Magdas HotelMagdas Hotel

Finch Buildings

Finch Buildings make modular houses from high-quality and sustainable wood. The units can be adjusted to the environment and circumstances. For instance the modules can be adjusted to the users, the usage and the location. It can be used as permanent or temporary housing.


Interview | Finch BuildingsInterview | Finch Buildings