Power from On High

Les Bouderies drew inspiration from the Brutalist architecture of Le Corbusier’s 1955 La Maison Radieuse.

Otis installs first solar-powered Gen2 Switch elevator in France.

In 1853, at the World’s Fair in New York City, Elisha Graves Otis effectively launched the modern elevator industry when he demonstrated the effectiveness of his emergency brake after the hoisting rope was cut. In 2015, in Les Bourderies in Rezé, France, Otis’ company installed a solar-powered Gen2® Switch elevator with an emergency battery that powers the elevator for 100 trips after the electricity is cut. Built in the shadow of Le Corbusier’s La Maison Radieuse (“the Radiant City”) in Rezé, Les Bourderies is part of a new social-housing project developed by Atlantique Habitations. Designed by Urbanmakers and built by Idefia, the 32-unit building is situated in the heart of town, near shops, public transportation, the town hall and a church, L’église Saint-Pierre.   

Les Bourderies’ “couture architecture” integrates well with its neighbors on the street, in terms of its proportions, base, façades and privacy of its balconies. Its metal structure echoes the avant-garde style of La Maison Radieuse and ensures the stability of the building. Timber-frame walls provide insulation and “dress” the framework. The architecture inspired Atlantique Habitations to go beyond minimum requirements and — among other energy-efficient measures — install photovoltaic solar panels, manufactured by Acieo Energies, to qualify for Positive Energy Building certification. Designing the first building of its kind in France, Idefia and Atlantique Habitations wanted to show it’s possible to combine innovation and energy efficiency, while keeping construction and operation costs low.

As part of this endeavor, Otis was contracted to provide a Gen2 Switch elevator. This machine-room-less elevator is lifted by Otis’ flat polyurethane-coated steel belts. The elevator is connected to four solar panels that provide 100% of its energy needs from March to October and 80% from November to February. It can also be connected to other renewable energy sources, such as wind turbines.

The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy calculates that elevators and escalators make up 2-5% (50% during peak hours) of a building’s energy consumption. The Gen2 Switch has a battery — made up of 97% recycled materials — that is charged in part by the regenerative drive when the elevator travels up empty or down loaded. When in standby, the battery uses 0.5 kW — less than a toaster or a light bulb. When the electricity goes out, the battery can power 100 trips in an eight- to nine-story building. This is critical for the building’s disabled or reduced-mobility residents.

Pierre Yves-Tinel, director of new construction at Otis, Western France, said of the project:

“We are proud to contribute to this environmentally responsible social housing project and deploy our first solar-powered elevator in France, which was manufactured locally at our plant in Gien. The project embodies our vision for intelligent buildings: a living space that makes use of the best technology for the comfort of its residents, taking the principle of energy efficiency into account from the building’s early design stage.”

As part of her construction “Tour de France,” Minister of Territorial Equality and Housing Sylvia Pinel visited Les Bourderies and enthusiastically learned about the elevator. John Mandyck, chief sustainability officer of United Technologies, parent company of Otis, said of the project:

“This ingenuity from Otis harvests the power of the sun to sustainably operate one of the most critical systems in a building. The breakthrough Gen2 Switch is a natural solution for intelligent, green buildings to significantly lower operating costs and environmental emissions together.”

While the emergency battery might not be as sky shattering as the emergency brake on elevators that led to tall buildings, it proves that a commitment to safety can lead to important innovations, making life better for an increasingly urban world.   

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