Wuppertal, here we come!

The Solar Decatholon Europe 2021/22 enters the hot final phase.

In May, the set-up phase begins in Wuppertal, and on June 24, the award ceremony for the overall winner of the competition will take place. How is the mood in the team? In which disciplines do we have the best chances? And how did we manage to motivate people to stick with it in this interdisciplinary project? Find out all this and much more in this interview with Annabell Gronau, responsible for project management/public relations and the interface between teaching and the project.

Michaela Leipersberger-Linder: Annabell, when do you leave for Wuppertal? Annabell Gronau: We leave for Wuppertal on May 18, registration starts on May 19, all the teams come together at the competition site, and on May 20 we start setting up.

How many people from your team are going to Wuppertal? Roughly 35 to 40 people for the set-up.

Wow, so many people! Are you going by car, by train ...? We travel by train. Many will take a bicycle with them so that they are more flexible on site.

Where will you live? In a kind of student dormitory. It's empty at the moment. We will have a whole block to ourselves together with the other teams, and we will have small shared apartments within the teams...

Who will cover the costs for the whole thing? Our funding provider is the BMWK. We received a relatively high amount of funding. These travel costs were already included in the application. We are in Wuppertal for almost six weeks. Not all the people are on site for six weeks at a stretch, but the costs for this set-up time in Wuppertal are quite high. That is why this was included directly in the application.

That means the team traveling from Thailand also has to pay for flights? Yes, and they also have much higher logistics costs, because all the material for the construction has to be transported by this team by ship or plane to Wuppertal as well.

What is the mood like in the team at the moment? Tense, excited, but also full of anticipation. We are in the final spurt. The last orders are being placed ... It's very stressful right now because there's still a lot to do so close to the deadline. But we are looking forward to the time in Wuppertal, to leaving the work at the university behind us for the time being and being able to concentrate on the construction.

Do you expect that you will have to improvise in one or two places on site? Absolutely! Everyone who participated in the SDE in 2010 tells us that things will definitely go wrong and you can't guess what it will be beforehand. It will probably be the part that breaks that you least expect .

No question, such forecasts make you a little nervous, right? We try to plan everything as best we can, and of course we have buffers planned in. So not everything is timed to the minute, but if something breaks during setup, then you have to improvise.

Is the delivery for our competition entry already on its way? How is that timed in conjunction with your arrival ? There are already deliveries coming to the university ...

But you don't take them with you by train, do you? (Laughs) No, of course not. They will be trucked to Wuppertal together with the parts we have manufactured here at the university, and also components from partner companies, such as the shell.

You've been working on the project for more than two years now. That means you had to know two years ago when you were calculating the costs that you would need a truck in the end, for example? I mean, you didn't know at the beginning where the journey would go and what you would need in terms of logistics. There have been some changes along the way to get here. The money from the funding agency is tied to a specific purpose and can only be spent in the way we had planned two years ago. Deviations from this could be requested by means of reallocations, which we have also made use of. These are all rough cost estimates that you make at the beginning.

Who supported you in this process? We were supported in the application process by the IAF and zafh.net, i.e. by colleagues from research and by the professors who were already involved in the competition in 2010.

The HFT Stuttgart team has given itself the name coLLab. What is behind this abbreviation? CoLLab stands for Collaboration and is meant to illustrate that many different courses of study and people come together here at the university and carry out this project collectively. So in terms of the team and how we work. But on the other hand, it also describes the project itself. That we want to create space that promotes social interaction and community. It is also meant to represent collaboration in the built project with this abbreviation.

There were three urban building tasks to choose from for this competition. What were they, which one did coLLab choose, and why? All the building tasks that were up for selection have an urban context, i.e. they involve situations that can also be found in real life. On the one hand, there is the filling of gaps between buildings, the expansion of existing buildings, for example an extension in the backyard, and then the addition of new storeys. The tasks of extending the existing building and adding a storey also included the renovation of the existing building. We decided on the addition because we saw it as having the greatest potential for the future.

The building selected for the renovation and addition of the second floor is located in the immediate vicinity of the HFT campus, the so-called Bau 5. Why was this building chosen? The competition sponsors gave three urban situations to choose from, or you could choose your own building in your hometown. We went to Wuppertag and looked at the existing situations and quickly realized that this was out of the question for us. We have a lot of potential in Germany, and our idea is to find simple solutions that can be applied to other buildings. Building 5 as a representative of its time lent itself as a long row building, with its flat roof, with its administrative building structure - long corridor and rooms facing the facades. This type of building is relatively common. We decided to develop a solution for raising this building, which can be applied to other buildings in the future.

And what will you be showing in Wuppertal now? You won't be rebuilding the entire Building 5 . .. No, you won't see the existing building itself in our demonstrator. We are only showing a part of the extension. The size was limited by the competition. We were given a construction area of a certain size, and the structure has to fit on it. We thought about what was important and decisive in our design, what we wanted to show so that people could understand the overall concept. And then it was a matter of integrating as many disciplines as possible in this section and making them visible.

What does the base look like for your presentation? It is not realistic, but adapted to the space requirements. The demonstrator stands on a platform, and it is planned like a building standing on the ground. We don't have a substructure, and it doesn't float. It stands on the ground and is accessible via a ramp.

How did you go about planning it? What were the key areas you focused on? The idea was to keep the private space relatively small and to make the common areas generous and open for use. The whole thing then also had to be modular, i.e. adaptable to different existing structures, in terms of length and width. This transfer aspect played a major role in the planning. And the interweaving with the campus was also important to us. That's why we also developed a mobility concept. We also made a change of use. The building is to open up more to the campus and provide space for open workshops and sharing cafés, for example.

Were all the initially planned approaches able to be realized? Or was there something you had to say goodbye to because you thought it was really great and important, but it couldn't be realized? There were a lot of loops. The whole thing was a process. We didn't have the big vision of a concept or a finished building from the beginning. It was all worked out over time. That is, you start with a basic framework and work your way forward. There are always ideas that you think are really cool at first, but which turn out not to be feasible after further thought and research. You have to go through these planning steps to ultimately find a solution that you can justify.

I imagine that's extremely difficult in a team where new people are constantly joining and new people are constantly leaving. Everything you will show in Wuppertal is a great achievement. But you have also done a great job of communicating and organizing at the university over the past two years. Respect! How did you manage that? There was the constant of the core team from the beginning. These were students from various fields of study who took the whole thing in hand. And then, relatively early on, an architecture team was formed that accompanied the project almost throughout.

How would you describe it? The interior designers made designs, then the people from KlimaEngeneering came and asked why this or that had not been taken into account ...? How did you deal with such "suggestions"? In the semesters where there was a lot of design, planning and overall concept work, there were meetings every week with all disciplines to report on the planning status and new findings. There, things came up that were mutually dependent, but which one might not have had on one's radar beforehand. Here it became clear that you have to think everything together to make it work.

Were there also disappointments? I can only speak for the field of study I come from. There you learn relatively early on that you can't always cling to one idea. Everyone who worked on this project was naturally willing to integrate other disciplines. To succeed in the competition, we had to take everything into account, make compromises, and couldn't leave anyone out. That became clear to everyone pretty quickly.

You learned a lot in the course of the project on the subject of cooperation, for your personality. But the even greater achievement is that you did all this not for your own benefit, but for your university. Super! What were the most difficult phases, what went easier than expected? Acquiring sponsors was difficult because initially there was no far-reaching concept at the university on how to deal with sponsorship of such large sums and how to handle them administratively. We therefore had to work closely with the administration to develop a sponsorship concept. This clashed with a certain delivery time pressure. That was a difficult phase. And what went more smoothly? I think convincing everyone of this concept and bringing them along went easier than expected.

The HFT competition entry was conceived and executed in an interdisciplinary way. Which study programs, which people - students, professors, etc. - were involved? If I tried to name them all, it would be a long list and there would be the danger of forgetting people. In addition to the degree programs, professors and colleagues, people were involved from almost every institution that exists at the university, be it administration, finance, marketing, building management, workshops and research.

What have been the benefits of interdisciplinary collaboration? Students have always said they think the project is so cool because they are working with people they would never have had anything to do with under normal circumstances. There have been different people from a wide variety of backgrounds working together.

How did the coLLab core team manage to motivate people to continue working on or commit to the project over such a long period of time? How did you do the acquisition? "Here, we have a project that lasts two years. Who wants to get involved?" From the beginning, we never made it about the time period, we always said, we have a cool project, and this is a great opportunity. But in the end, it was up to everyone to decide how long they wanted to be in the project.

The venue for the competition is Wuppertal. There, the Mirker Quartier has been designated for the construction of the competition entries. How should we imagine this quarter? The venue is located in the Mirker Quartier. Wuppertal has an old railroad line over which a bicycle route has been laid. The old station buildings are being put to new use, for example the Mirke station. This is a central location on the site. Associations have settled there that use the old station building. There is a café, seminar rooms that can be booked and workshops. The area is very well connected thanks to the bike lane, and there are no cars. There is a cool atmosphere because there are a lot of people there who are convinced of something. The individual competition residential buildings will be integrated into this area.

The competition is quite big with 18 university teams from eleven countries. So far, there has been a meeting with all the teams in Wuppertal. What was the atmosphere like? Very good. When everyone meets, it becomes clear what the overall scope of the project is - once each university on its own, but also the scope in an international context. And also that we are all working on the same challenges and looking for solutions on how we can make building sustainable and innovative in the future. It's a spirit of optimism. You notice that something is happening and that people are very motivated. You get into conversation very quickly, everyone is very open ...

... But you didn't just simulate, did you? (Laughs) No.

Is it a big competitive situation when you meet each other? (Slightly hesitant) Yes. There are teams that really stand out. For example, you can tell that it's not the first time they've participated in this competition and that they already have a certain routine. But, I would say there is definitely competition. They are all university teams, they all have bright minds in their teams and good ideas. Each competition entry looks different, everything with each other is very difficult to compare. It's very exciting to see how teams have done something different from exactly the same task.

The international teams come from Istanbul, Romania, the Czech Republic, France, Hungary, Thailand, the Netherlands, Taiwan, Sweden and of course Germany. Are there any differences in planning and execution visible at this stage that can be linked to the home country? So perhaps with a different understanding of living and living together? I suspect so, yes. In our process, we also started very much from our country of origin and our circumstances. But what has to be said is that all the teams were planning for a European city and had to take into account the standards that apply there. All the demonstrators in Wuppertal comply with the German building code.

That means that if everyone had to orient themselves to the European standard, the design of the Taiwanese team, for example, must also be feasible in a European city? Exactly. This means that the competition entries can be compared.

What impulses, ideas, suggestions did you get from the exchange with the other international teams? That you have to be open and not always start from yourself. There are many different needs, and everyone has a different understanding and demands of living in the city. This is a process that will never be completed.

The Solar Decathlon is - as the name suggests - designed as a decathlon. Each competition entry is judged in ten individual disciplines, from which the winning placements , i.e. first, second and third place in the overall awards, are derived. In which of the ten disciplines does the coLLab hope to achieve good results? I hope in Architecture, in Engineering and Construction, which concerns the building and energy technology. We have paid a lot of attention to visibly integrating our energy concept into the architecture and showing the interplay between technical components, architecture and aesthetics. This could possibly also result in a good placing in the Innovation Award. We may also have a chance of a good placing in Sustainability.

The final award ceremony will take place in Wuppertal on June 24. What are our chances of taking a place on the winners' podium? Would you like to go out on a limb with a prediction? That's super hard to say. If you follow the process of the other teams on social media, you can see a lot of innovation and great ideas. That's why it's really hard to make a prediction. I suspect that in the end it will only be a matter of two or three points that a team is better or worse, because the overall quality of the contributions is very high.

So judging in ten disciplines is very nerve-wracking, but it does make for a certain fairness, doesn't it? Yes, and that is so important for the future. In the future, it shouldn't just be about whether a building looks nice or that it's only cost-effective or only serves one of these disciplines. It should always be about sustainability being just as important as an urban design concept and social aspects.

What happens to the competition entries at the end of the competition? Will coLLab leave its entry in Wuppertal or will it travel back to Stuttgart to the university? Some entries will stay in Wuppertal, others will either go back to the respective university locations. In our case, the demonstrator will go to one of our partners who has a large exhibition site.

What will happen to coLLab after the end of the Solar Decathlon 2021/22? So after 6/24, when the champagne corks pop - and they definitely will, no matter what placement you take ... The team itself won't disband right away, because there is still follow-up work that needs to be done: Accounting, cleanup and administrative issues, as well as public relations and creating publications. I hope that we have left a lasting impression at the university, that others will take their cue from it, and that they will continue to be bold in tackling larger, interdisciplinary projects in the future. It doesn't necessarily have to be a Solar Decathlon.

And what is your personal conclusion about the participation of HFT Stuttgart in the Solar Decathlon Europe 2021/22? It was a great enrichment. The craziest thing was really that you faced new challenges every day and had to do things you had never done before. You had to stay flexible over a long period of time and look for ways to solve things. And to experience all that in a really cool team was very enriching, even if it was very stressful and very exhausting at times. In the end, it was definitely worth it. And even if we didn't get a place on the winners' podium: We can be super proud of what we have achieved!

And here is a video moving portrait showing a large part of the 2022 team.

Publish date: 09. May 2022 By Michaela Leipersberger-Linder ()