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Post-event report | Stuttgart - Stefan Marbach: Tradition meets a paradigm shift

Kick-off of the Sto Foundation's November Talks: New approaches to building

On 3 November, for the first time following the disruption of lectures caused by the pandemic, architecture experts and building aficionados once again met in Stuttgart for the November Talks. The subject of the kick-off event of the series, which is supported by the Sto Foundation, was a critical analysis of how the construction sector can meet the challenges posed by climate change and the resulting policies. The evening's speaker, Stefan Marbach, senior partner at Herzog & de Meuron, made the case for building concepts specific to local conditions.

"What we need to do now is to find a new approach when building", said Stefan Marbach, senior partner at Herzog & de Meuron, and got right to the heart of the matter of his November Talks lecture. "Traditionally, we have been using concrete in construction and have always been interested in the material's aesthetic diversity", he stated. However, he added that we need to have a serious debate about how the construction sector has to change, especially in light of the recent catastrophic floods. Because: The construction sector is part of the problem, as Marbach said unequivocally.

His lecture, which kicked off this year's November Talks series in Stuttgart, took up on the winter semester's motto of the Faculty for Architecture and Urban Design: "Building without concrete". Marbach described the high standard of architectural goals and the need to reconcile different aspects that often seem incompatible. Marbach used a quote of the Swiss architect Jaques Herzog to explain the complexity of the task: "The real challenge is to create sustainable and unique beauty. We believe it is our task to be part of a paradigm shift in order to create a new type of aesthetic, sustainable beauty as well as architectural quality that is specific to each individual project and that fits into the local urban, geographic and cultural context and counterbalances the natural surroundings".

High CO2 emissions arising from building with concrete

CO2 emissions have been increasing steadily in the age of industrialisation, along with a growing population and per capita wealth, which has resulted in a larger physical footprint per person. The result, Marbach noted, was a lot more construction. The construction sector alone is responsible for 40% of CO2 emissions – and eight percent can be attributed to building with concrete. Marbach added that the goal has to be site-specific construction and factoring in regional (climate) conditions when designing and planning architecture. "However, in many cases, people still don't understand this", he stated regretfully. He introduced a few projects as examples – such as an expansion building of the Tate Modern in London, the natural swimming pool in Riehen and the REHAB centre in Basel. With all of its projects, Herzog & de Meuron wants to advance a sharpening of sensory perception and the creation of a new, specific type of city. "The key is to think holistically and to bring the stakeholders to the table that are required for these types of concepts", Marbach pleaded. He referenced the current "Nordspitze Basel" project, which is being created as part of the urban development project on the property of the former Dreispitz duty-free warehouse. A well-thought-out, mixed-use quarter with a high density of residential and office spaces, commercial and educational facilities as well as many green spaces and recreational facilities that are open to the public is being created here. "Densification also means creating more free space. In that regard, the following question is key: How do we consciously create a pleasant climate in a city that tends to overheat"?

The speaker referred to other projects, such as the Stone House (1988) in Tavole, the wine press and storage facility of Dominus Winery (1998) in Napa Valley and the Ricola herb centre (2014) in Laufen. All of them used local materials instead of concrete. Marbach emphasised the impressive connection of all of these projects to the respective sites and a contemporary construction economy. Obviously, a lot of convincing still has to be done when it comes to creating real architecture that can contribute to the stated climate goals. "Some building owners say they want the most sustainable building", Marbach stated, referring to his everyday practice. "However, once they realise how much that would cost, they back pedal".

Architecture and building – that is a central topic for everybody at any time, everywhere and in any society. Currently, new challenges and conditions still collide with tradition and the established way of doing things. In addition, the planning of contemporary architecture projects requires significant foresight because some of them may take a decade to complete and the requirements can change a lot in that time. As a final project, Stefan Marbach talked about the Hortus office building: In this building, the energy required for construction is intended to be "paid back" within a generation. Hortus is an atrium building made of solid timber and clay with a biodiverse courtyard. The timber structure is pegged in its entirety. Ceiling elements with pounded clay fillings are intended to be produced in a temporary field factory and then made available for construction just in time. The exterior shell is fully equipped with solar modules – with glazed and closed areas at a ratio of 1:1.

Exciting and future-oriented aspects characterise the start of the November Talks. Kyra Bullert, a research assistant of IRGE – the Institute for Spatial Conception and Fundamentals of Design – moderated the event and referred to the upcoming lectures in Stuttgart, the series' original location, on 10, 17 and 24 November, as well as additional November Talks in Paris, Prague, Venice, Vienna and London.

You can download the high-resolution images here.

The follow-up reports, also from the other locations, will also be made available to you gradually. You will then find these data under the following link.

You can find all dates of this year's November Talks on our website The website also contains brief video clips of interviews with the speakers.