Transa Büro in Zürich

Sustainability

Turning an office into a cultural site

Portraetbild Moritz
Moritz
Editor, 4-Seasons
© Fotos

How do we want to work in the future? How should we handle digitalisation and an increasingly complex world? Transa asked itself these questions when renovating its Zurich offices. The project is truly pioneering: around 80 percent of the construction components are being reused. CEO Dani Humbel, architect Pascal Angehrn and electrician Jan Schibli offer insights.

Dani, why did we need to renovate Transa’s administration building?
Dani: The shortage of space was becoming a growing problem and the premises were simply outdated. In the most recent edition of ‘brand eins’ magazine (issue 04/22), Stephan A. Jansen, a Professor of Management, Innovation and Financing, writes ‘A company isn’t a digital chain of Zoom screens and magical blockchains for conducting transactions and demonstrating leadership: it’s a sculpture of society.’ This is a perfect summary: we’re experiencing rapid social change and this is sparking countless deep-seated questions. The renovation is an attempt to engage with this.

What message did you want to send?
D: We wanted to create a place that fosters interaction and dialogue. Transa is built on the community and dynamism of its employees; our culture is shaped by close interpersonal relationships. COVID-19 and the shift to remote working have curbed many of the links within this organisational culture. We wondered how we’d work in the future: what tasks can we complete from anywhere? How can we handle advancements in digitalisation and networking? Where do we need communication and collaboration? Where do we need tranquillity and opportunities to retreat from everything that’s going on? Our goal wasn’t to achieve an ‘either/or’ answer, but a finely tuned symbiosis of both worlds.

How can this be made a success?
D: Trust and connection can only grow out of personal interaction – and we need to do justice to this with modern workplaces and a new concept of leadership. The transparent architecture encourages contact and interaction. As our world gets more complex and more global, we rely on employees’ creativity and the fact that they want to, and are able to, find solutions within this challenging environment. As societal changes progress, companies will increasingly be transforming into cultural sites in the future. The nature and lifeblood of an organisation will become more relevant. After all, nobody wants to work for a faceless firm. That’s why you need rooms imbued with character where you can interact with people: the importance of interaction is a core credo at Transa.

Pascal: Everything’s always perfect in our digital world. Circular construction stands in contrast to this. It facilitates a highly direct, organic approach to architecture: it’s fairly rough, you can see the details, everything has a story. The elements are tangible. The connection between the old and the new creates opportunities for identification as employees are interested in the origins of the components and, ideally, will share this with others.

Transa Büro nach Umbau
Photo © in situ

01 | 232 m
LED lighting track
From Transa’s old offices
CO2  saved*: 890 kg

02 | 1 fire protection door
From a demolished property in Winterthur. 
CO2  saved*: 659 kg

03 | No floor covering
Floors oiled instead of being covered with Kugelgarn. 
CO2  saved*: 9.2 tonnes

Transa Büro nach Umbau
Photo © in situ

04 | 55 pcs
Wooden windows
From a residential development in Zwischenbächen near Zurich.
CO₂ saved*: 7.9 tonnes

05 | 5 m2
Transa advertising posters
Found in a Transa warehouse.
CO₂  saved*: 200 kg

06 | 35 pcs
Ceiling lights
Glass inserts from Brussels and connecting metal rings from Winterthur. CO₂  saved*: 49 kg

07 | 123 m2
Wooden panels
Sawed and piled up to create a wall, from Pfaffechappe, Baden. 
CO₂  saved*: 1 tonne

What exactly does ‘circular construction’ mean?
P: Switzerland’s construction industry is responsible for around 90 million tonnes of waste a year: we’re living as if we had three and a half planets at our disposal. In conventional construction, it’s the norm to order all the components new from a catalogue, while all the old ones are thrown away. In circular construction, conversely, the available components are recycled and reused. For instance, the previous roof can be chopped up and deployed as partition walls. In addition, we look for components available externally: we buy old blackboards, windows and plywood sheets from various sources. We check to make sure they can be reused and then give these elements a new lease of life. We’ve been radical in our pursuit of this concept in collaboration with Transa. This has enabled us to attain a reuse rate of around 80 percent and save just shy of 50 tonnes of CO2. Many of the components come from Transa’s original inventory and didn’t need to be transported far.

Being so strict about avoiding new components sounds limiting...
P: That’s true with regard to the conventional construction process. For us, though, we saw the stock as a kind of treasure chest, a valuable asset that needed to be maintained and transformed. True, we needed to rethink things and see them from fresh perspective. That’s why we have a tangible CO2 saving at the end of a construction project: this serves a higher goal. Ideally, we’ll even make other architects and participants in the construction process aware of how to launch this way of working.

Dani, why did you opt for circular construction?
D: We don’t just want to talk about sustainability: we want to actively do our bit, too. When I met Pascal, I was immediately blown away by his concept. The notion of breathing new life into recycled material aligns perfectly with our desire for a well-functioning circular economy. Human aspects also played a major role, too: everyone involved quickly learned to trust each other and it was clear that we shared a common vision.

What do project owners need to contribute to a project like this?
P: Circular construction poses challenges for everyone involved in the project, as it’s highly process-centric: construction is, in itself, laborious and lengthy. When you add unknown components into the mix, that makes it even trickier. As a project owner, you need to be ready to join us on this journey, you need to be flexible, able to cope with uncertainty and you need to trust the people involved. We need courageous project owners like Transa who take a stand and want to raise the bar. And then, of course, we need the trades companies involved, like Schibli, to be open and willing to do this. This is the only way that we can generate follow-up projects and hopefully define a new style of architecture that lives up to its responsibilities in terms of sustainability.

D: I think that the philosophy of reuse and the associated process that Pascal just sketched out are key aspects in a process of transformation that we need to undergo as a society. Beyond this, though, we can’t lose sight of functional matters: in an office, there are certain things that simply need to work. Pascal and I were constantly in touch. As the project owner, we were much more involved than if we’d simply hired a regular firm of architects.

Zwei Personen stehen in der Kaffeeküche eines Büros.
Photo © in situ

08 | 35 m2
Heraklith sheets
Origin: Jesuiten Schule Zurich. Reused to improve acoustics.
CO₂  saved*: 283 kg

09 | 135 m2
Wall panels
From Pfaffechappe, Baden.
CO₂ saved*: 3.88 tonnes

Transa Büro nach Umbau
Photo © in situ

10 | 85 m2
Screen-printed panels
Origin: Riedtwil. Reused to construct kitchen cabinets.
CO₂  saved*: 1.47 tonnes

Transa Büro nach Umbau
Photo © in situ

11 | Electrics
IT cables/light switches
Around 90% of the light switches and most of the IT cabling come from Transa’s old office.

Jan, what role did you play in the renovation?
Jan: We’ve been working on Transa’s IT for a good few years in collaboration with our subsidiary, Entec AG. This contact led to us receiving an enquiry for electrotechnical planning and its subsequent execution. We’d not come across circular construction before – but we’re also always looking for new, more sustainable electrotechnology solutions. When Dani approached me, I was fascinated from the off: the same kinds of things make us tick, we’re both open-minded when it comes to new technology and we’re willing to forge new paths. We were immediately infected by Pascal’s enthusiasm and passion for the subject.

What approach did you take to the project?
J: To start with, we needed to find out which of the available materials we would even be able to reuse effectively. Regulations and norms do impose some restrictions in this respect: nowadays, lights need to be halogen-free and cabling needs to satisfy fire regulations. Ultimately, though, we were able to re-install some elements from the existing site and even arranged a few light fittings from other construction sites.

To some extent, the renovation was a bit of an experiment. Did it work?
P: The outcome is a small step on our journey towards giving our grandchildren the planet in the state they deserve. The process was intense and instructive. It would be wonderful if our employees could fill the new rooms with life – in fact, that’s already happening – and even carry the whole thing into their day-to-day lives. It remains to be seen whether the project has this level of impact.

J: I’m always willing for the Schibli Group to try out new things if I think I’m investing time and money into something that makes sense for me and our industry, too. During this project, we learned a great deal and got to know other people who, like us, see things differently. They don’t just talk about doing things: they look for alternative solutions and are willing to go the extra mile for them.

D: I think the renovation reflects our values and our attitude – but it’s just the first step. There are still fundamental questions needing to be answered: isn’t the time we spend together, above all, key? How do we want to interact with each other in the future? As a company, what can we and what do we need to offer our employees?

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