KU Lighthouse: A lighthouse university building in Copenhagen

Public nZEB buildings case study
Project type
New Construction

KU Lighthouse based at Nørre Campus at the University of Copenhagen / © Adam Mørk

Designed by Christensen & CO Architects, the KU Lighthouse (originally called Green Lighthouse) in Copenhagen, built in 2009, holds the distinction of being Denmark’s first public CO2 neutral building. It also meets the criteria for a nearly Zero-Energy Building (nZEB), thanks to its innovative energy measures. The building is a result of a successful public-private partnership and serves as a reference for such collaborations.

The energy efficiency of the KU Lighthouse is achieved through a combination of district heating, solar cells, solar heating and cooling, and seasonal storage. The building’s design reduces energy consumption by 70%. Lighthouse works to strengthen innovation and entrepreneurship at the University of Copenhagen and acts as a gathering point for students, researchers and external partners who want to work across professional disciplines. It builds bridges so that the university’s ideas and solutions can be used for the benefit of people, society and the environment.

Beyond its ambition of being a beacon for emission neutrality, the KU Lighthouse also symbolises the potential of public-private cooperation. Its innovative character has attracted numerous visitors, further enhancing its reputation as a beacon in sustainable architecture.

How was this building procured?

The building was promoted by the University of Copenhagen, the Danish Building and Property Agency (UBST) and the Municipality of Copenhagen. The contracting authority was Universitets- og Bygningsstyrelsen of the University of Copenhagen. The architectural firm was Christensen & CO Architects and the contractor was Hellerup Byg. The total cost of the project was EUR 5 million. The project had a strong public-private partnership component that was emphasised throughout the construction process.

The building’s construction followed a Public-Private Partnership model, with the three aforementioned public entities and VELUX / VELFAC as partners. This partnership set ambitious performance targets for the new university building, which was envisioned as a flagship project. These targets included criteria for energy efficiency and strategies to maximise CO2 emissions reduction.

In March 2008, a competition was called to find the best team for the project. The building was tendered as a turnkey contract, where the contractor was entrusted with both the design and construction phases of the project. In October 2008, a team comprising of Christensen and Co Architects A/S, COWI, Hellerup Byg, VELUX, and VELFAC emerged as the winners.

What are the key nZEB features?

The building includes a series of features that result in a nearly zero-energy performance:

  • Daylight is the primary light source in the building. The architectural concept itself revolves around maximising light incidence in the building, thus adopting a design that features a circular structure and an internal passage of light;
  • To reduce the amount of direct solar heat entering the building, the windows and doors are recessed and equipped with automatic solar shades;
  • A combination of the following energy sources supply heating for KU Lighthouse: 35% solar energy from solar collectors on the roof and the storage of solar heat in the ground (geothermal heat) via a heat pump, 65% eco-friendly district heating with a share of renewable energy of approximately 35%;
  • Solar heat energy is produced by channelling solar heat through windows that face south. This energy is utilised for floor heating, and any excess is stored in the ground. A heat pump in the building circulates the solar heat, geothermal heat, and cooling. This system ensures efficient use of district heating, which is only tapped into when the supply of solar heat has been exhausted;
  • The heat pump enhances the efficiency of the district heating system by approximately 30%;
  • The 76 square metre solar cells installed on the roof significantly contribute to the building’s electricity supply;
  • 90% of the building’s energy consumption is covered by renewable energy

Did the project have an impact on skills?

As a pioneering endeavour aimed at setting new standards in energy efficiency and carbon neutrality, this project has been a hub of innovation and skill enhancement since its inception as a strategic public-private partnership. Leveraging the expertise of industry leaders such as VELUX/VELFAC, it has effectively integrated state-of-the-art technologies and best practices into its framework. Moreover, the tendering process significantly prioritised the integration of innovative elements into the project’s execution, thus promoting skills and abilities.

Beyond its role within the University ecosystem, the building attracts specialised visitors interested in replicating its successful solutions. This reflects its status as a model for sustainable development and highlights its potential to inspire similar initiatives across various industries.

Keywords: Nearly Zero-Energy Building (nZEB), Carbon neutrality, Skills, Innovation Procurement, University, PPP, Copenhagen, Denmark.

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