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A revolution on Morača river

UN Eco House in Podgorica, Montenegro  |  Photo: Miloš Vujović
by creators of the UN Eco House:
architect Daniel Fugenschuh and engineers Doug King and Mike Shaw.
The UN Ecobuilding on the bank of the River Moraca represents a ground-breaking new way of working for the United Nations regional agencies as well as a ground-breaking building design. The design was authored by Daniel Fugenschuh, architect, from Innsbruck, Austria and King Shaw Associates, consulting engineers from Bristol, United Kingdom.
The building was the brainchild of Garret Tankosic-Kelly, formerly Resident Coordinator for the UN in Montenegro. The five United Nations agencies operating in Montenegro (UNDP, UNHCR, UNICEF, IOM, WHO) were working from independent locations in Podgorica. The creation of a new building was an opportunity to streamline operations as well as create synergies between the agencies.
The Austrian Government sponsored an architectural competition in 2005 to find a design for the building. The winning proposal from Daniel Fugenschuh and King Shaw Associates was inspired from the concept ‘Delivering as One’ as described in the brief. All the UN agencies were to be placed on the same floor level and under one roof, expressing through the building form the ambition that the UN system in future will be working together as one.
UN Eco House construction progress: Video Preview
The Montenegro Government gifted the land for the building in a prominent position on the edge of the Moraca riverbank. The design responds to the location by digging into the riverbank to create an iconic building without dominating the skyline. When crossing the river via the Millennium Bridge or the Moscow Bridge the UN building is perceived as a horizontal pendant to the vertical pylon and the bridge’s suspension cables.
For the passer-by this working together philosophy can be seen in the work spaces projecting onto the riverbank like fingers, each housing two agencies with a fourth finger accommodating the café with the terrace which can be used for informal meetings and social interaction. Other shared spaces including meeting rooms, library and lobby are placed to the rear of the building and can be reached easily and equally by everyone.
The positive appearance of the building was accomplished by keeping the environmental impact to a minimum. Energy consumption has been substantially reduced using simple methods such as providing plentiful natural light and natural ventilation for the workspaces. The UN staff can take advantage of the fresh air near the river Moraca delivered by its waters by simply opening the windows. Conventional cooling by air handling units is minimized to the hottest days where the passive cooling needs support.
UN Eco House in Podgorica, Montenegro  |  Photo: Duško Miljanić
The building is heated and cooled using a heat pump coupled to groundwater abstracted from a bore well on the site. The water temperature is a constant 11oC year round and for most of the year this is low enough to cool the building directly, but in the summer months a heat pump can be used to refrigerate the cooling system water to extract additional cooling capacity. 
The primary means of cooling the building is a network of pipes embedded in the concrete roof slab. The slab is insulated on the outside and the concrete left exposed on the inside to form the ceiling of the rooms. Heat from the interior is continuously absorbed into the concrete and any surplus is carried away by the circulating cooling water. This system will operate to deliver background cooling when internal temperatures rise above 22oC.
When the outside air temperature is low enough in the evenings and overnight the slab can simply be cooled by passive night ventilation using the opening windows. However the occupants will need to keep the windows shut during the summer when temperatures can rise overnight. Under these conditions the ground water cooling will operate continuously, supplemented by conventional central air conditioning during the day when the indoor temperature exceeds 26oC.
UN Eco House in Podgorica, Montenegro  |  Photo: Miloš Vujović
The solar heat gains to the building are mitigated by shading the roof with a photovoltaic solar canopy which, at 86kW, is believed to be the largest building attached photovoltaic installation in the Balkan region. The solar power generation will be sufficient to meet the majority of the building’s power needs. When there is a surplus of electricity generated, this will be fed into the national power grid, another first for Montenegro.
The building is well insulated and uses solar control, triple glazed windows to Passivhaus standards. With the relatively mild winters there will be little call for heating, with heat gains from occupancy generally being sufficient. However, for the occasions when the temperature does drop, the heat pump can act in reverse to heat the building, drawing heat out of the groundwater. The solar canopy has also had to be designed to withstand 1m snow depth.
The building structure was designed in response to the Architectural aspirations of exposed concrete with clean vertical and horizontal lines. The structure is set into the bank of the river, gradually cantilevering to the front elevation and anchored by basement structures to the rear. This is topped by a flat monolithic slab cast onto a set of randomly positioned concrete columns and walls. The columns are set in the cladding and partition zones to create an unobstructed office plate whilst the shear walls are positioned to resist earthquake forces.
UN Eco House in Podgorica, Montenegro  |  Photo: Miloš Vujović
Large circular and rectangular rooflights are cut through the slab allow daylight to penetrate into the offices below. Floating over the roof is a matrix of inverted, pyramidal columns supporting the photovoltaic canopy.
The Podgorica Directorate of Public Works, Consultants and the Contracting Team have all made considerable strides in realizing a very ambitious design by Fugenschuh and King Shaw. This has clearly advanced the leading edge of building technology in the Balkan region. The building meets European requirements, to come into force in 2020, for all new buildings to be near zero energy consumers, some five years ahead of schedule. This is a key outcome for Montenegro as it seeks membership of the European Union.
The designers now plan to set up a programme to monitor the performance and use of the building through the first few years of its life. It is hoped that this programme will engage both the University in Podgorica and other European Universities in sharing knowledge on how modern architecture can evolve without wasting natural resources.
Doug King 15th March 2014
on Behalf of Buro Fugenschuh & King Shaw Associates.
One of initiators of the UN Eco Building idea - former UN Resident Coordinator a.i. to Montenegro Garret Tankosić Kelly (right)
together with designers of the building – architect Daniel Fügenschuh (second from left), building physicist Doug King (left) and
structural engineer Mike Shaw (second from right)   |     Photo: Miloš Vujović