Traverso–Vighy: return to zero

Giovanni Traverso and Paola Vighy explore the positive aspects of the zero-mile lifestyle: their new office is a wooden box that produces more energy — and ethics — than it consumes.

I consider myself lucky to see trees from my office window, but I am less lucky about getting to work. I have been using the Milan west ring road for years: daily gridlock. So when I visited the new office that Giovanni Traverso and Paola Vighy have built in the Vicenza hills at Costabissara, I realized that, more often than not, it is only a matter of putting certain choices into practice.

The term "zero", usually employed in a negative sense ("you are worth zero..."), is a winning number for this project. The new office was designed as a zero-mile construction; it is only about ten metres from the architects' home. Zero effort, zero gas, zero city noise. Improved quality of life.

The return to zero doesn't stop there; it is the project's true mainstay. The zero-energy building already complies with the EU directive that mandates that by 2020 all new public buildings must be zero-energy; completely powered by "local energy," it uses wood combustion and solar and geothermal energy. Furthermore, the surplus energy produced by the photovoltaic panels can be sold back to the grid for about €100 per month, which lets the owners/designers recoup part of the costs of the PV system in the winter. The building, designed in collaboration with the Department of Physics at the University of Padua, will be monitored to track its energy and thermal performance.
Top and above: the Tvzeb building’s north façade. A suspended walkway provides access to the office
Top and above: the Tvzeb building’s north façade. A suspended walkway provides access to the office
Their technological approach implies a methodological issue. Traverso and Vighy opted for dry construction systems, which require more design effort, but imply minimal on-site presence by the architects. With a strategy similar to industrial design, the building is really a large object with components produced by a network of local companies located within a 70 km radius from Costabissara.
The south elevation overlooks a steep slope
The south elevation overlooks a steep slope
The building is a lightweight construction composed of two elements: a larch glulam structure — enclosed by a galvanized steel envelope and raised above the ground on steel beams — flanked by a second timber volume which dematerializes on the second floor, where a metal grill contains photovoltaic panels. Construction materials respect the sustainability principle either because they can be easily recycled or because they are derived from recycling processes. One such example is the insulation in polyester fibre wadding produced from 40,00 recycled plastic bottles.
The construction method responds to the architects' belief that land is a finite resource and that buildings should not be permanent, but reversible
The two volumes seen from below
The two volumes seen from below
The building combines past and present. Expert craftsmanship is united with CNC processes in order to produce prefabricated perimeter beams and columns, ready for on-site assembly. The construction phase was reduced to a minimum: about four months, including foundation work.

The building's form allows it to be "nourished" by natural light. In the winter, the south-facing "daylight funnel" invites sunlight to penetrate the building's interior; in the summer, overhangs protect the work area from heat gain. Indoor temperatures in spring and fall can be regulated automatically by adjusting the openings connected to sensors.
The volume in the foreground houses a meeting room and kitchen
The volume in the foreground houses a meeting room and kitchen
The construction method responds to the architects' belief that land is a finite resource and that buildings should not be permanent, but reversible, affirming that "the building can be disassembled at the end of its life cycle and its materials can be separated and recycled, restoring the site to its natural landscape." In a region like Veneto and in a country like Italy, where permanence and solidity are synonymous with psychological certainty, this sounds like quite a courageous approach.
The wood structure supports a sequence of photovoltaic panels
The wood structure supports a sequence of photovoltaic panels
However, the building's technological soul would only be an end in and of itself if it were not for the architectural vision. Ultimately, spatial sensations are also important to those of us who make a living in architecture. The office lives in harmony with the landscape and the people who inhabit it. Powered, heated and illuminated by natural light that freely penetrates the interior, the building respects circadian rhythms, breathing naturally as if it were alive. Laura Bossi
The design of this volume recalls the formal language of rural buildings
The design of this volume recalls the formal language of rural buildings
Giovanni Traverso, Paola Vighy: Tvzeb offices
Architects: Giovanni Traverso, Paola Vighy
Design team: Giovanni Traverso, Paola Vighy, Giulio Dalla Gassa, Elena Panza
Structural engineering: Loris Frison
Mechanical Engineering: Lorenzo Barban, Marco Sabbatini
Built area: 190 square metres
Cost: 350,000 euros
Design: September 2010 — July 2011
Construction: November 2011 — July 2012

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