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CEU project provides a lesson in efficiency

The new campus in the historical center of the city is only the second higher education building in Europe to receive BREEAM accreditation. The €34 million investment is in keeping with the university’s sustainable policy.

The design seeks to make good use of the courtyards.

An ambitious project in the heart of Budapest offers developers an education in the finer points of building green.

The Central European University (CEU) campus redevelopment project in the historical Fifth District of Budapest is the first non-commercial building in Hungary to achieve BREEAM sustainability accreditation and only the second higher education BREEAM accredited building in Europe. This is in line with what is described as the “sustainability policy” of the board of CEU, and three years of collaborative work by the Campus Redevelopment Office with the Irish architectural firm O’Donnell and Tuomey, Hungarian partner M-Timpani, the construction company Market-Strabag and BREEAM assessor Zsombor Barta. The €34 million investment is being funded by the trustees of the university, in addition to loans.


The architects’ rendering of a lecture hall in the new campus.

According to the development plans, the three-phased CEU campus redevelopment project will consolidate the CEU into a 35,000 sqm campus across six buildings. This first phase of the project is a new library that will increase its size threefold, a new conference center with global lecturing capacity, and a new business school, relocated from Buda and due to be completed in September 2016. Development of a second phase will start in October 2016, the existing structure on the site has asbestos contamination so this will be demolished and a new building constructed, due to be completed in summer 2018. The other four existing buildings at the CEU campus will be refurbished to create a modern educational space. The whole concept is to create student-centered education rather than class rooms. “This project combines protected building elements, new construction elements, and renovation located in a World Heritage zone,” said Zsombor Barta, the BREEAM assessor who collaborated with the development group, architects, environmental consultants and contractors to complete the assessment of the project design.   


A sketch shows how the new complex will change the look of Nádor utca.

Environmental faculty contributed to concept

The “sustainability” concept stems from the university’s own department of sustainability and environmental sciences, says Pál Baross, Director of the Campus Redevelopment Office.

“BREEAM accreditation was chosen because it is regarded as the most suitable with regard to the regulations in Central Europe, and the fact that many practitioners in Hungary are experienced in the BREEAM system. It is therefore easier to get architects and engineers who have experience with the qualification. I personally value it as the most flexible system which makes allowances for emphasizing the user aspect of the building,” said Baross.

“We chose specifications that were very biased towards the users in terms of light, the ability to control your own environment, and because it was a city center project we wanted to reduce parking spaces and move towards cycle use, so we converted all the car parking facilities to bicycle parking with a capacity for 400 bikes. We were awarded a 100% BREEAM transportation rating for providing cycle racks and showers. Not even the director has a car parking place, and we only have five or six parking places for logistics delivery.”

The Irish designers of the development, Sheila O’Donnell and John Tuomey spent four years working on the plans and see green design elements as a “key factor in blending new construction into the existing built environment”. All the architects who were seriously considered for the project had sustainable building experience, as sustainable building design is now mainstream, says Baross.      

The firm has worked on sustainability accredited educational projects in the recent past such as the London School of Economics residential building in London. The architects considered how natural light and shading could positively impact working conditions in the buildings. This provision aims to reduce reliance on mechanical heating and lighting systems. “The concept is to maintain comfort in the work environment through the seasons. We have a robust outside structure enabling fresh air circulation in summer, and it also maintains heat in winter,” said Logan Strenchock, CEU Sustainability Officer. According to the design plans, the complex incorporates energy-efficient equipment and building management systems in addition to a rooftop garden spanning two buildings.

Trying to fit in

The brief presented to architects in an open tender focused on issues of how a functioning university building fits into the urban landscape and the architectural heritage of the city. As part of this solution O’Donnell and Tuomey saw the use of courtyards in District V as providing a solution to environment challenges. According to the design this provides zones outside the extreme heat and cold, and such spaces are naturally lit.

“The design and architectural achievements rather than the technological achievements were paramount for BREEAM. The architects found a very interesting solution to working with the courtyards. Courtyards in Budapest are a very permanent feature of the urban space and environmentally they are very bad, as they are cold in winter and others became a heat trap in summer and require artificial cooling systems. To combat this the architects designed an atrium roof insertion structure that was almost like a chimney and this gathers all the heat at the top of the atrium, this can be opened and provides cooling for the building and at night ventilates the whole building,” said Baross. “This is unique and in the future I think we will see similar solutions for other buildings projects in Budapest which use the existing courtyard space. Another feature that is common elsewhere in Europe – but not currently in Hungary – is that there will be heating systems within the concrete beams, and this gives the building a permanent temperature range. I think that these are the two significant new innovations in the design.”

Up to 35% energy savings

The project has been calculated to bring 30-35% energy savings. This comes firstly from the cooling requirement, as in the summer months it will use much less cooling energy, and secondly savings will be made on lighting as there will be much more natural light. Devices for reducing computer energy consumption will also be installed; computers are in general seen as heavy users of energy.

Green pre-accreditation was in part due to the policy of the university. “There was a strong statement from the university that it wanted to have a building with a low environmental footprint: this so-called social responsibility fits into the general philosophy of the university. Of course by translating this philosophy into actual technical solutions and going through the rigorous accreditation process, it was not foreseen how much extra effort it takes. But the university now has a ‘Very Good’ qualification,” Baross said.

He concludes that he would like to capitalize on the experience of the CEU to stimulate the Hungarian government, which spends relatively large sums of money on university buildings, to make green accreditation compulsory; for this there is also a need to develop a Hungarian accreditation system, which is not a second class accreditation but does not require English language accreditation and can be done locally. This would apply to public buildings such as schools, hospitals and universities.