Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Bregenzerwald

Bregenzerwald is one of the main regions in the Vorarlberg's Bundesland, Austria. The 22 villages of the Bregenzerwald are characterised by the traditional settlement pattern of the small hamlet naturally integrated in its surroundings. Today, though, it lies in the vanguard of a revolution in sustainable living that is drawing attention from all over the world.
Bregenzerwald is home to three of the seven villages that have achieved a five-star rating from the European Energy Award scheme. Langenegg is one of them. “We have more than 100 energy efficiency initiatives in the village”, says Josef Moosbrugger, mayor of the village, “including an underground biomass plant that heats more than 20 buildings and a mobility scheme that promotes car-sharing and free public transport”.
One of the most important projects in Langenegg has been the construction of three über-efficient buildings – a primary school, a café and a supermarket. These so-called passive houses use ten per cent of the energy it takes to heat the average European home. The trick, says architect Hermann Kaufmann, is in the materials used and the simplicity of the design. “Our passive buildings use wood wherever possible”, he says, “because sustainably, locally sourced wood uses very little energy to produce and actually helps with climate change because it is a natural store of carbon. We also use 30cm of insulation, triple glazing, heat recovery and ventilation systems, and design the buildings with more windows on the south side and fewer on the north”.
Kaufmann is among a group of visionary architects in the province of Vorarlberg which has achieved international recognition for its pioneering approach to sustainable architecture. Through its influence, all social housing in Vorarlberg is now built to passive standards, making the province perhaps the greenest place to live in the world. According to Moosbrugger, Langenegg aims to reduce its energy consumption by 50 per cent by 2010. But it's not just about the technology, he says. "There is a tremendous amount of enthusiasm among the community to work towards this target (...) Everyone is doing something in one way or another".
Bregenzerwald is also well-known thanks to the The Cheese Street Project an association of the region farmers, dairies, inns, trades and retailers. The businesses integrated in the Cheese Street network rang among the regional elite regarding cheese and regional specialties.