The factory, which we had the opportunity to visit in preview, could in fact take on a symbol of the green transition that starts from the factory: from that area from which historically many problems of our contemporaneity are generated but which can become part of the solution.
Starting from concrete questions: first of all, how to exploit the potential of technologies that we have today to rethink the way we produce and live in terms of sustainability and regeneration.
The Plus: the sustainable future of production
Norway looking to the future is here: about 110 km from Oslo, near Magnor, where on June 3rd opens The Plus, the new innovative super-ecological factory by Vestre designed by the Danish studio BIG Architects for the Norwegian group, global leader in the field of green outdoor furniture.
The product of an effective synergy of mutual reinforcement between Nordic countries - Denmark (headquarter of the studio freely chosen by the clients), Sweden and Norway (where the main production sites of Vestre are).
"The Plus is much more than a hypermodern factory born because we needed more space to assemble the furniture, work the wood and reorganize the powder coating workshops", explains Elizabeth Preus Vestre, the matriarch who knows well the history of the family business founded in Haugesund in Norway in 1947, now in its third generation, with branches in New York, Los Angeles , Berlin and London and outdoor furniture protagonists from Times Square, New York to King's Cross, London.
"Our furnishings design urban places where people can be together. At Magnor we also want to create a new meeting place open to the community. But also to raise the bar of sustainability doing our small part to counter the effects of climate change and meet the objectives of the Paris 2030 Agreement "(limiting average global warming to below 2 ° Celsius compared to the pre-industrial period ed).
"The Plus is Paris 2030 proof because it reduces greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% compared to a similar conventional factory in less than ten years, consumes 60% less than energy and generates 250,000 kWh of renewable energy per year thanks to 900 solar panels installed on the roof and around the factory", explains Stefan Tjust CEO of Vestre, took over from Jan Christian Vestre, from 2021 in office as Norwegian Minister of Trade and Industry.
"These substantial cuts in environmental impact levels are possible because we have chosen a building envelope that meets the Passivehaus standards with a supporting structure in wood solid, built on a platform of low-carbon concrete and recycled reinforced steel, using fossil-free machinery on the site, "he continues.
"The Plus is well positioned to become the world's first project of its kind to achieve the highest environmental certification rating: BREEAM (Outstanding)".
Solar energy, heat exchangers and geothermal wells
The green soul of the Factory combines solar energy, heat exchangers and a series of geothermal wells. The surplus of heat produced with solar panels is stored and used for heating but is also connected to an ice water system for cooling and recoverable for domestic water. 90% of the water used in the production cycle is also recycled.
"We are also promoting electric mobility for employees, currently only 28 but soon there will be around seventy", continues Stefan Tjust.
"Without forgetting that Vestre was one of the first companies to order the Tesla Semi, the first electric truck in the world, to ensure free transport of emissions between the Torsby plant in Sweden and the Magnor plant in Norway, 90 km apart.
On the other hand, every year we donate 10% of our profits to projects all over the world for sustainable development. And we are convinced that the investment of NOK 300 million for The Plus will also pay off, proving that it is possible to produce in a competitive but also respectful of the environment".
An alienating place
But already on its own, The Plus location is ideal for containing carbon emissions, considering that the factory, 7000 square meters of development, is immersed in a forest of 30 hectares, on the edge of a much larger forest that gravitates around Magnor, a village in Innlandet county, 3km from the Swedish border.
With a trip in electric mode of about an hour or so you leave behind The Oslo Opera House, The Edward Munch Museum and The Barcode, three topical places of the Norwegian capital 2.0 and you are enveloped in the breath of a green lung that changes space-time coordinates. The effect is alienating. We are faced with an object that seems to evoke that well-known "It doesn't matter where! Anywhere as long as it is out of this world", quoting Baudelaire.
What is that? A museum, a mega art installation? A new Willy Wonka chocolate factory? Everything is possible. If not that, forgotten gates and fences from traditional factories, nonexistent, a hyperbolic full-height sliding glass door opens and one finds oneself catapulted into a high-tech production universe that makes all the power of the his message: here architecture meets industry and nature without compromise.
Under the banner of maximum reciprocity, visibility and transparency.
The Plus, so named for its geometry clearly perceptible as a sign +, four helix-shaped wings, looks like a volume in wood, with perimeter walls in solid wood and a frame structure with glulam beams (up to 24 meters long, 1.8 meters high, 5 tons in weight).
The perception of the environment is of extreme openness , cleanliness and color. The lateral service corridors and a network of channels positioned under the floors of each level (three in all) hide from view the technical infrastructures of the four wings that correspond to the four areas of the production process: color, wood , assembly and warehouse.
Each shares a unique and special relationship with the central space open air, called experience center because it is right there, in the void embraced by the glass facades interior of the building that generates a 360 ° view of the work environments and also of the focal point: the maple tree that embodies the symbolic heart of the project at zero altitude.
"It was very important that the people inside the building could look into the forest without visual interruptions but also that people from the outside could see the work going on inside. It is the value of a total transparency and honesty", explains David Zahle, Partner and Lead Architect of Bjarke Ingels Group.
The distinctive element of the architecture are the windows up to 14 meters high, 2000 square meters of total development. "They also have a high degree of insulation that guarantees minimum heat dispersion and lower energy consumption", continues Zahle.
Hydro CIRCAL , the greenest aluminum in the world was used for the fixtures, made up of 75% of post-consumer waste recycling (such as cans, parts of cars and more).
The use of wood
There is no gap between the landscape outside and inside. The certified wood used for the construction comes from the forest. 90% of the trees removed were reused to coat the facades uniformly in carbonized Norwegian mineral pine, a material that harmonizes with the colors of the trunks of the surrounding centuries-old trees. All at zero km: minimized costs and harmful emissions. The 'engineered' wood was processed with the cross-layered PEFC Cross-lam technique, stored 1400 tons of carbon dioxide in the structure and allowed rapid and precise construction times.
The green roof
The roof is a complex figure resulting from parametric twists which offers itself as a terrace-belvedere that can be walked along the entire length of the building. It shows how the four cross-shaped wings define not just a logistic hub, but a structural nexus of reciprocity.
In fact, as we said above, about 900 solar panels studded with plants are placed on the roof: the native vegetation present in the area and brought back to high altitude which also integrates material collected from the seed bank of the undergrowth to support the biodiversity of the place.
Stairs and links
The roof is accessed via the linear external stairs that develop along the facades of the Color Factory and Wood Factory. But it is also possible to reach it by taking the helical 'stairs from the courtyard' characterized by the lively yellow color of the balustrades and handrails that crown the central space of the experience center. In both cases, the panoramic view of the factory and the surrounding forest are guaranteed.
Floors: a chromatic driving archipelago
Since each of the Factory's four wings has its own color code Vestre that matches that of the machines hosted, the project returned it as a floor mapping.
A network of sinuous lines similar to those of a subway converge to the center of the Plus, restoring a system of orientation in the space and a note of playfulness, even didactically: the production process can be understood by following the colors of the machines.
A conveyor belt
But how does The Plus work? The goods enter from one end, then they are divided between the wood factory and the color factory. The product is assembled in the fourth wing and then sent back to the other side.
"Architecture essentially translates into a large belt conveyor," explains Zahle. "We studied different geometric compositions before defining this one: the most suitable on the logistical level to optimize the open flow of a customized production with automated lines", adds Viktoria Millentrup, the young designer from the BIG team who followed the construction site that lasted only 18 months.
From robots that give products custom color on demand to scanners that reduce waste in woodworking, artificial intelligence optimizes the use of resources. And the timing of the production process. "Raw materials are fed into one end of the automated production line and finished furniture emerges at a breathtaking pace at the other", explains Project Manager Marianne Preus Jacobsen.
"Color changes that previously took 15 minutes can now be done in 30 seconds , in a range of 200 different shades. Today's production needs to be green but also customized to be competitive", he continues. "We have integrated many of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals into our corporate philosophy. So 150 of the products have already acquired Nordic Ecolabel certification, are covered by a lifetime and 15-year anti-rust warranty. for coatings and wooden parts.
All the steels and aluminum used come from Torsby, Sweden, where the Vestre factory designed by Snøhetta in 2013 is located".
From architecture to design, the concept is coherent: renewable energy and local materials of high quality. After many years of use, the furniture can be returned to the factory to be restored and reused.
We think about the product in a circular perspective, extending its life cycle. The result: savings in energy consumption, therefore a lower impact on the environment and climate.
The next step: the Forest Vestre Camp
The future center visitors, under construction, underlies the project's democratic idea of social inclusiveness. It is also hoped that hikers will make active use of the forest by pitching their tents near the factory: a tribute to the traditional Norwegian 'right to wander'.
"We have already thought about how to host art installations, exhibitions, but also picnic areas and games for the little ones in the park. A way to increase the value of a destination attractive and educational.
We are also thinking about the construction of a lookout tower and a bridge over the Vrangselv river to connect the forest to the center of Magnor where you can visit historic cafes and glassworks ", explains Elizabeth Preus Vestre.
Last but not least, every object in the park will encounter a poem by Hans Bjørli, one of Norway's most beloved poets, who spent his life in this municipality.