Places to Grow and The Sun Ship Model

My earlier posts have examined some of the challenges facing Ontario’s Places to Grow policy, how it has so far failed to blunt urban sprawl, and how innovative ideas can help builders address the need for affordable, sustainable housing.

I have to thank Mark Cullen for drawing my attention to Sun Ship in one of his recent articles. (When going green means exactly that, Toronto Star, Jan 9, 2014). He, in turn, learned about this innovative urban development through Master of Architecture graduate, Martin Gautier, who authored a thesis titled, Evolving the Urban Dwelling.


Sun Ship / das Sonnenschiff, Frieburg, Germany; Rooftop residences with gardens, commercial spaces below; fully renewable-energy independent

Sun Ship, a combined residential and commercial (office and retail) development in Frieburg, Germany, is a remarkable example of how original thinking can lead to ground-breaking ideas. This building “not only incorporates garden spaces with the building (essentially there are a number of row homes with gardens atop of a commercial podium) but is also claimed to be net-positive energy through both energy conservation measures as well as active and passive solar energy generation.”

The building is described as a ‘PlusEnergy’ development that produces more energy than it consumes. Rooftop residents have the option of holding an ownership share in the ground-level commercial spaces. The Sun Ship brochure says that 60% of the rental revenue is distributed annually to resident investors as dividends.

Aesthetically, some aspects of the Sun Ship may look rather stark to North American eyes. And I don’t know how the economics of it may translate to North America. The Sun Ship itself may not be entirely adaptable to our setting but the innovations certainly are. The original settlement of Frieburg dates back to about 1200 so they’ve had lots of time to think about building sustainably. The lesson for us here is that the Sun Ship model emerges entirely from the real needs of residents, the community and society.

Alcona, Innisfil’s ‘designated’, but sparse commercial core, is looking for further development and could benefit from these ideas. But, it will take more than money – we’ll need entrepreneurs with money, imagination, vision and guts to make Innisfil “The Place to Be in 2020”. In my last post, I suggested that housing plans be ranked on a Sustainability Index. After learning about Sun Ship, perhaps all new development proposals should be subject to evaluation on an Innovation Index, too.

Places to Grow – What’s Wrong?
Places to Grow – No Simple Solutions
Places to Grow – Rethinking Housing