• Climate hub
  • 24 Jan 2022
  • 3 min read

Dunedin-designed building showcases lower-energy construction

By Laetitia Laubscher

World-class sustainable innovation from Dunedin

An incredible mega-building in Shenzhen is being constructed using almost entirely recycled materials – dramatically reducing the energy required to build it. The nature-inspired Marisfrolg Headquarters is a 120,000 square metre interconnected structure with a 50-room boutique hotel, restaurants, flagship stores and a catwalk. Its energy efficiency shows that even construction on a massive scale doesn’t need to have an enormous carbon footprint.

Recycled bricks and ceramics used for external cladding
Recycled bricks and ceramics used for external cladding

Recycle bricks, smashed tiles and marble offcuts

Designed by Dunedin-based Architecture Van Brandenburg, the entirety of the bird-like building’s external cladding is recycled, made from discarded materials such as ceramics, terracotta, bricks. Recycled bricks were taken from demolition sites of factories other buildings, while the smashed ceramic tiles used were often originally discarded due to simple manufacturing defects. About 50% of the interior is recycled as well, using marble offcuts and other materials, reducing the required energy required to create the materials for the new construction dramatically.

The energy efficiency extends to its operation, too. The recycled roof collects rainwater for reuse, irrigating the building’s gardens and supplying a pond which draws in the prevailing wind to provide a no-energy, natural way to cool the entire complex. Inside the Marisfrolg Headquarters, surfaces incorporate solar-powered lights to illuminate public spaces with the aim to go ‘beyond carbon neutral thinking by returning power to the grid’.

Inspired by Gaudi, designed in Dunedin, built in Shenzhen

Work started on the design in 2007, after Marisfrolg owner Zhu Chongyn visited New Zealand. China’s leading fashion designer was impressed by the architecture of the beautiful resorts she stayed at in Queenstown, and met with Fred Van Brandenburg to talk about the possibility of creating a new headquarters for the Marisfrolg fashion brand.

She appreciated Fred Van Brandenburg’s approach – inspired by organic, natural shapes and more sustainable ways of working. It was a vision that captured Van Brandenburg in 2015, when he “rediscovered” Gaudi’s work and nature-inspired philosophy.

Fred Van Brandenburg discusses his inspiration

“I ripped up everything I ever did and started again.” Starting again meant evolving from being a modernist to creating “structural art”, which also meant evolving away from the usual architectural practice of working off 2D designs to creating 3D printed concepts and then building those. “Traditionally, architects use models when they finish their design as a presentation tool. We reverse that, we make models to use as a design tool.”

Solar-powered lights and organic shapes
Solar-powered lights and organic shapes

Efficient, astonishing and resilient

Van Brandenburg’s organic, low energy approach to design could well become the new standard of architecture of the future, both in decreasing carbon emissions in the building sector and protecting against an increasingly volatile climate.

When Super Typhoon Mangkhut ripped through southern China and forcing 2.45 million people to evacuate, many of Shenzhen’s buildings were damaged. The wind hit the sharp-edged, rectangular buildings creating a vortex, causing windows to be sucked straight out of the buildings. The Marisfrolg site, however, which funnelled the wind through its organic shape, was unscathed. Only a single tree was damaged, left with a slight tilt. The building’s sustainable, natural design has also earned it recognition as a site of cultural significance in China, with busloads of tourists flocking to the site already.

Work on the Marisfrolg Headquarters is due for completion in 2023, but in the meantime, you can walk virtually through the building in this video flyover. It’s a stunning experience – from the imagination of one Kiwi architecture firm to a landmark in Shenzhen is a staggering achievement.

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