HAUT: Timber!

If you think “concrete colossus” whenever you hear the word “high-rise”, think again. Made primarily of sustainable timber, the HAUT apartment complex under construction at a beautiful location on the Amstel River is scheduled for completion in 2019.

Sustainable builders face one major dilemma before a new project even gets off the ground. Conventional building materials like concrete and steel aren’t environmentally friendly. Extraction and production cause environmental pollution, and the reuse of concrete, for example, is fraught with problems. So when a plot of land on the Amstel, the river running through Amsterdam, recently became available for the construction of a sustainable housing complex, property developer Lingotto set out to find alternatives.

“We wanted to use an organic material – that was our main challenge,” says Bob Jansen, director and owner of Lingotto. The team finally settled on timber – a beautiful, lightweight material which helps create a pleasant indoor atmosphere. Lingotto designed and developed the building together with the architectural firm Team V, the two having collaborated before on sustainable residential towers in Amsterdam.

A new kind of wood

The timber-based design has made the project one of the most sustainable residential towers in Europe. Jansen says, “That’s because, as it grows, wood absorbs carbon from the air. The timber HAUT is built from contains over 3 million kilograms of carbon. It’s partly because of this that its carbon footprint is so much lower than comparable projects in concrete and steel.”

All this renewable timber comes from production forests. Timber is widely used to build homes, but never before to create a building of such magnitude. “Obviously, it has to be sturdy if you’re planning to build a 21-storey building. So we opted for a new type of wood called cross-laminated timber, or CLT. Think plywood, but much thicker,” explains Jansen.

Sustainable use

Sustainability is important not only to the construction of the HAUT high-rise, but also in terms of how the building is to be used. The residential tower will be fitted with solar panels, a system that uses rainwater to flush toilets and an energy-generating façade cladding system. Accordingly, HAUT has been awarded the highest possible sustainability score in the construction industry: the BREEAM Outstanding label.

Lingotto has built sustainable residential towers before, but the choice of timber presents a whole new challenge. “You might say from a structural point of view we had to reinvent the wheel,” says Jansen. “After all, the project has to comply with all applicable regulations involving things like acoustics, vibration and fire safety. Dutch building regulations are very strict, so it was up to us to come up with a whole range of creative, sustainable solutions. One example is the underfloor heating system, which is actually suspended inside a double wooden floor structure. This reduces noise, generates a pleasant warmth and makes the system relatively easy to replace in the future.”

The right to copy

In 2019, the 73-metre-high building – Europe’s tallest wooden residential tower – housing fifty spacious apartments will be complete. Jansen says he has no illusions about holding on to that record, though: “I’m sure someone else will come along and build a higher building very soon. What’s important about this project is that we’re showing people that timber can be used to create beautiful high-rises.”

Thanks in part to an article about HAUT which was recently published in The Economist, international construction companies now know all about Lingotto. Based on its experience in building Circl, ABN AMRO was asked to become a knowledge partner in the HAUT project. 

Inspired by the meetings with ABN AMRO, Jansen and his colleagues are eager to share their expertise in order to promote sustainability. “We believe in the right to copy and in sharing our knowledge of sustainability. Admittedly, that may come as a surprise to some, given the highly competitive nature of our industry.”

In addition to offering the use of its pavilion to show future residents the high quality of a wooden construction, ABN AMRO is sharing the knowledge it acquired when constructing the circular pavilion Circl, which has recently been completed.

Paying to use the lift

Jansen says his team was thus able to capitalise on the bank’s experience in renting solar panels, for instance. “We’ve benefited greatly from ABN AMRO’s expertise and contacts. The lift in the HAUT building is also the same as the one in Circl.” An excellent example of circular construction, the lift will remain the property of the manufacturer, Mitsubishi. After all, why would residents want to own a lift? “A fee for the use of the lift is included in the service charge they pay. The manufacturer services the lift and will ensure that the parts are recycled at the end of service life in thirty years’ time.”

A mortgage product for HAUT is also currently being developed. “ We challenged ABN AMRO to offer a mortgage that matches HAUT’s high level of sustainability. The product should not only offer the lowest possible interest rate, but should also take into account the travelling our buyers will have to do.”