This Is Sustainable Architecture — How Bern 131 Aims to Produce More Energy Than It Uses

Profiled Firm: Atelier 5 Architects & Planners Ltd |  Location: Bern, Switzerland
The BERN 131 Building by Atelier 5 Architects and Planners

Situated at the center of a highway junction and directly on railways that extend in all directions across Switzerland, BERN 131, developed by Losinger Marazzi AG, will serve as a daily dose of sustainability and beauty to the thousands of passersby.

The building belongs to Swiss Prime Site and was designed by Atelier 5 Architects and Planners, a Swiss architecture firm. The architects’ design choices will be the focus of this article — you’ll get first-hand testimonial from the firm on how they conceived such a standout structure.

Fast Facts | The BERN 131 Building by Atelier 5 Architects and Planners

Here are a few facts about BERN 131.

  • Designed in the shape of an arc triangle; floor plate offsets provide visual interest and form a rooftop terrace that’s partially covered and invites visitors to enjoy the gorgeous view of Bern city as well as the distant Alps
  • A central atrium helps circulate air vertically to reduce energy requirements
  • Roof and façade parapets are covered by photovoltaic panels to collect solar energy
  • Will aim to produce more energy than it consumes through a variety of methods explored in this article
  • Constructed from timber for its sustainable benefits as well as the welcoming feel it offers to the interior
  • Has an above-ground planned floor area of approximately 19,500 m2
  • Construction started in November 2022; available for occupation in 2025
  • Designed and planned completely in Vectorworks Architect, with model coordination occurring in BIMcollab

Sustainable Solutions - Overcoming the Perceived Limits of Timber Construction

Many architects, engineers, and construction professionals are well aware of the limits of timber construction. These include fire risks and load-bearing weakness when compared to concrete or steel, which has historically limited wooden buildings to a few stories.

But there are gigantic upsides to constructing with wood. First, wood is much lighter than steel or concrete, which helps speed up the construction process and reduce use of heavy machinery on site thanks to the ability to prefabricate building elements offsite. AEC professionals are realizing that this is a huge benefit when it comes to reducing a project’s embodied carbon levels. Embodied carbon in building projects accounts for roughly 13% of total global carbon emissions.

->RELATED: Did You Know About Vectorworks’ Embodied Carbon Calculator?

Another benefit of timber construction is its cost effectiveness. According to ArchDaily, “in 2017, the average price for steel mid-rise buildings was $208.4 per square foot and concrete came in at $156.5 per square foot, compared to wood at $119.7 per square foot.”

Rounding out these benefits is timber’s durability. When maintained well, wood can persist for hundreds of years. Innovations in wood engineering such as cross-laminated timber (CLT), glued-laminated timber (glulam), and nail-laminated timber (NLT) allow AEC professionals to construct wooden buildings that are much taller and more durable than has ever been possible.

Among other sustainable solutions in the BERN 131 project is a carefully planned HVAC concept, which partner Florian Lünstedt described:

“The building technology concept was developed to use as little energy as possible for ventilation and heating as well as cooling. The atrium in the center of the building is used as an exhaust plenum. This means less energy is needed for air transportation. The whole mass of the building is used to store heat and cold. The envelope is well insulated so that little energy is lost in winter. Intelligent control of blinds allows solar gains in the winter and prevents high energy input in summer. Then, where possible, the roof is covered by photovoltaic panels, as are the parapets of the façade.”

Atelier 5 Relies on Vectorworks for Design, Analysis, and Planning

Executing a large project like BERN 131 requires excellent planning and collaboration tools. Atelier 5 relied on Vectorworks Architect design and building information modeling (BIM) software for this project. Lünstedt said this about the software:

“With the intelligent tools in Vectorworks, work processes can be accelerated, summarized, and simplified. The structuring of the floors with the referenced layers leads to a realistic model that can react quickly to adjustments, corrections, or revisions in the planning process.”

BIM: Essential for Large Building Projects

The use of BIM was required by the client and defined the progression of the BERN 131 project. BIM allowed Atelier 5 to treat one model as the project’s source of truth — from the model, the architecture firm created sectional and elevation plans, as well as various visualizations to communicate with stakeholders. According to Lünstedt, developer Losinger Marazzi will also use the model to determine material quantities and cost calculations, 3D coordination, and tenders.

“Working with BIM was essential for this project,” said Anna Trifari, BIM manager for the BERN 131 project. “The shape and structure of the building are very complex, which is why the 3D model has already been used in many situations for clarification and illustration. In addition, many different consultants and contractors were involved, so interdisciplinary exchange played an important role.”

Atelier 5 used the industry foundation classes (IFC) file format to collaborate with consultants. With Vectorworks, they exported an IFC-specified model and were able to import the IFC data from others. They also took advantage of the BIM collaboration file format (BCF) for BIM issue management. “The direct import of BCF files into Vectorworks and the subsequent editing of clashes are both very helpful and easy to use,” Trifari said.

“Working in 3D with Vectorworks works very well and we use the intelligent tools for almost all new projects,” said Trifari. “The possibility to view the project in the model helps to understand complex situations better and faster. Time can be saved by using the purpose-built tools in the software and by automatically creating sections and views.”

More on Atelier 5

Hailing from Switzerland, Atelier 5 has been in business since 1955. “Atelier 5” gets its meaning from the firm’s history of being founded by five architects: Erwin Fritz, Samuel Gerber, Rolf Hesterberg, Hans Hostettler, and Alfredo Pini.

Between 1955 and 1962, the firm designed the Halen Estate, a housing development that’s now a Swiss Heritage Site. As of 2022, the firm is managed by four partners: Gabriel Borter, Gianni Chini, Florian Lünstedt, and Franco Petterino.

Their BERN 131 project was selected to be featured alongside the release of Vectorworks 2023 to encompass the exceptional design that’s possible with Vectorworks Architect.

You can explore more of Atelier 5’s work by visiting their online portfolio.

Owner: Swiss Prime Site –

Project development/total contractor: Losinger Marazzi AG –

Architects: Atelier 5 Architects and Planners –