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School Port

Integrating sustainability into architecture

A visit to the village of Port near Biel, Switzerland, where a school is becoming a source of electricity for nearby homes

Published on AUGUST 31, 2022

Schools are a precious resource, essential for children’s education and growth. Now, though, we’re asking the question: can they also become power plants for towns and cities? After visiting Uppsala in Sweden, and getting to know Rasiglia in Italy, our journey through “The greatest success stories of electrification”, takes us to Switzerland, to the small municipality of Port, in Bern Canton, not far from Biel. Here we’ll discover how a school can combine functionality, architectural aesthetics and sustainability, while also playing an important energy role for the local area.

Accompanying us on this third journey are Martin Zimmerli, Silvia Weibel Hendriksen and Basil Spiess from the Skop architecture firm, part of the team of architects that designed and built this incredible building.

The School: energy autonomy and sustainable materials

Since 2017, the school in Port has housed both kindergarten and primary school classes under one roof. “The biggest challenge was to come up with a way to reduce the environmental impact of such a large building, Spiess explains. How to construct such a large building, capable of accommodating hundreds of children, in a residential area surrounded only by family homes? How to make it compatible with the local architecture and urban planning of the neighborhood? These are the questions that the team at Skop posed when in 2013 it presented the design that won the open competition to build the school. “To better integrate the building with the surrounding area, we decided to divide the façade into what look like smaller units. We wanted to make the building more coherent with the surrounding context by making it seem smaller than it actually is”, explains Basil Spiess.
Energy Efficiency for Public Buildings

Smart Public Buildings

Efficient and comfortable buildings for the benefit of all

Smart Urban Design

Smart Urban Design

Making infrastructure interconnected, multifunctional and modular

But the school was not only designed to have an appealing visual impact. In fact, the truly unique point of the structure is its energy impact: more than 1,100 solar panels have been installed on the building’s roof to generate electricity with an instant peak capacity of 300kWp. As a result, the school serves as an energy “station” because the energy produced not only meets the school’s electricity needs but also powers 50 nearby homes.

The Skop team also conducted detailed research into the construction materials: all of the materials are environmentally friendly, with a low environmental impact

The wood used on the façades and in the interiors originates from sustainable forests in Switzerland and neighboring countries. The design process also took into consideration a series of health-related factors, such as natural light, acoustics, and soundproofing from outdoor noise, as well as indoor climate, in order to make the structure environmentally friendly and suited to its function – as a place for people to study, play and work every day in an environment that is healthy and welcoming.

Rethinking architecture from a sustainability perspective

Architectural Lighting

Architectural Lighting

A sustainable way to preserve city heritage

The school in Port is a result of the application of Skop’s philosophy and that of its architects and urban planners. “For our generation of architects, integrating sustainable solutions into projects is not merely an option; it’s our responsibility to promote the idea that every building should be at least net-zero, without contributing to further emissions of greenhouse gases into the environment at all.”

Especially when it comes to large buildings, for Martin Zimmerli the key is beginning from a base policy of zero-emissions and then finding smart ideas to integrate that can become new sustainable solutions for architecture and for the production of electricity. 

Our vision is architecture that helps mitigate climate change. This might also mean rethinking the language of architecture, making it less dogmatic and more social, in which the journey towards sustainability takes on a central role. We don’t view this change as making some sort of sacrifice – on the contrary, it can bring greater benefits and wellbeing to everyone,” Zimmerli explains.

The future of energy, architecture and smart cities

Given the times we are living in, when we talk about energy, it’s only natural to think about the future and how an immediate change is needed for our planet. Silvia Weibel Hendriksen sums up: “Architecture and urban planning have the power to resolve some of the contradictions and cultural challenges surrounding the issue of safeguarding the environment. As was the case in Port, when we work together with local inhabitants and institutions, it’s possible to come up with solutions that bring together architecture, technology and a sustainable future. On this shared journey, decision-making should also involve the skills and expertise of urban planners and architects: this is what is needed in order to resolve the climate crisis in cities in the long term.”
Our Commitment

Our Commitment

We are leading the change, accelerating the energy transition

Skop’s approach, in addition to being deeply endorsable, is also part of Enel X's mission as a catalyzer of transformations towards a more sustainable world in which industry, work, architecture and every aspect of life is viewed as a starting point on a journey of rethinking how we do things in order to find sustainable solutions that have less impact on the lives of all of us and the environment we live in.Especially when it comes to large buildings, for Spiess the key is beginning from a base policy of zero-emissions and then finding smart ideas to integrate that can become new sustainable solutions for architecture and for the production of electricity.