Innovation and sustainability: this is the new campus in Dübendorf

The concept of the new jewel of the Swiss research institutes EMPA and EAWAG has been unveiled, which promises to be a milestone in sustainable construction

Dubendorf: campus
Building with a view to the future: access to the futuristic campus of EMPA and EAWAG with the new parking lot on the right (Illustration: Filippo Bolognese/SAM Architects)

The wait for the brand new campus of the Swiss Federal Laboratory for Materials Science and Technology (EMPA) and the Swiss Federal Institute of Water Science and Technology (EAWAG) is almost over.

Located on the EMPA site in Dübendorf in the Canton of Zurich, District of Uster, the campus is designed to be an inspiring space where new ideas and innovations are born, while respecting thetechnology and with an eye to the climate.

The project saw the dawn in 2021, with the aim of creating a research hubs resistant to the unexpected and potentially harmful vibrations, capable of housing highly sensitive precision instrumentation. Today, just over two years later, this is how the Dübendorf campus is preparing to meet the challenges associated with climate changes.

An unforeseen research building in Dübendorf 
Thus EMPA rail pads reduce noise along railways

Dübendorf: wooden ceiling
Lots of wood helps save concrete: Spruce beams and slabs for the wood-concrete ceiling of the new car park in Dübendorf during assembly (Photo: EMPA)

Energy efficiency, "removable" parking and green materials

Among the most extraordinary features of the campus, the attention to energy efficiency and the reduction of emissions is highlighted emissions CO2.

A first-of-its-kind system experiments with seasonal energy storage using geothermal probes to capture and store waste heat produced by refrigerators, ventilation systems and laboratory equipment during the summer months.

This heat will be used in the winter months to heat buildings and produce hot water, thus helping to minimize CO2 emissions and to explore new technologies for a more sustainable energy future.

In designing the campus, particular attention was paid to reducing theenvironmental impact, trying to minimize the greenhouse gas emissions. A significant example is given by the use of an innovative construction method in wood and concrete for a three-story building. This choice made it possible to considerably reduce the thickness of the concrete layers and to prefer natural materials such as wood. 

Kevin Olas, head of the sector "Immobilien" by EMPA, underlined that one of the key points of the project was the smart installation of lighting, power lines and sewage pipes, maintaining the aesthetics of this sophisticated hybrid construction unchanged.

Another important aspect in campus design concerns parking. Considering (and wishing) a future in which individual mobility could be reduced or at least downsized in favor of other forms of transportation, the parking lot was built with a modular structure, using prefabricated parts that can be disassembled. This flexibility allows certain parts of the car park to be adapted to new uses, such as laboratories or other destinations, thus offering a versatile solution that can be adapted to future needs.

Biodiversity: even cities can promote and protect it
Sustainable construction: the… mushrooms protagonists among the green materials

Dübendorf: urine
Thanks to the so-called teapot effect, the NoMix toilet separates urine for recycling (Photo: EAWAG)

The circular economy is at the heart: fertilizers from treated urine

You read right. What is normally considered a waste product can become a valuable raw material for fertilizers. As? Through the installation of NoMix toilets, human urine is separated from sewage (i.e. faeces, waste water and toilet paper).

This is because urine contains valuable nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, which can be used to make fertilizers for theagriculture. A process developed by EAWAG allows urine to be stabilized in the basement of the NEST building, eliminating its odour. After further treatment, a high-quality fertilizer called Aurin is obtained, approved for use on edible plants.

It's not all. In addition to these key initiatives, the campus will house photovoltaic plants to increase the production of electricity from renewable sources. In addition, more than 14.000 square meters of the campus will be paved with 80 percent recycled asphalt in the basement and 20 percent in the top layer, demonstrating a commitment to using sustainable materials.

Landscape architects have also paid attention to biodiversity, promoting vegetation and shrubs resistant to the increasingly warmer climate, able to thrive even in adverse weather conditions. Finally, previously paved streets such as Ludwig Tetmajer Street at the EMPA site will become green and shaded areas.

In Switzerland created a paper battery with water switch 
Trees and plants instead of parking lots in the city: the study in Nature

Dübendorf: editing
The use of two building materials with different manufacturing tolerances made the planning and assembly of the new Dübendorf campus a challenge (Photo: EMPA)

An absolute reference model for green construction

A reference model in the construction of the future, respectful of the environment and ready to open its doors in 2024 to welcome 30 laboratories and 30 offices of EMPA and EAWAG.

The Dübendorf campus is a brilliant demonstration of how harmonization is possible research and innovation with a responsible vision towards the environment, a philosophy which is fortunately also gaining ground in the private sector. A tangible example comes from Solid Earth, an avant-garde company in the field of environmentally friendly flooring, which has always stood out for the union between sustainable materials and production processes, while guaranteeing extraordinary performance and quality at the same time.

In a world where the sustainability has become a crucial challenge, the Dübendorf campus reminds us that innovation and environmental responsibility can go hand in hand, paving the way for a future where our growth is fueled by an awareness of our impact on thetechnology.

RESKIN: the innovative smart project for green building
Unboxing Carbon, the catalog for building with real green materials

An introductory video of the innovative campus of EMPA and EAWAG (in English)

An introductory film of the innovative campus of EMPA and EAWAG (in German)

The opening ceremony of the innovative EMPA-EAWAG campus (in German)

A virtual tour of the innovative EMPA-EAWAG campus in Dübendorf (in German)

Dubendorf: Aurin
Aurin is already being marketed and distributed as a garden and field fertilizer (Photo: EAWAG)