FuturArc Interview

May-Jun 2017

Dr Wolfgang Kessling

Director, Transsolar Energietechnik GmbH
by Lakshmi Menon

Dr Wolfgang Kessling is one of the directors of Transsolar Energietechnik GmbH, Munich—an international climate-engineering firm that approaches sustainability through innovative climate and energy concepts for buildings. Founded in 1992, Transsolar has about 50 engineers with offices in Stuttgart, Munich, New York and Paris. The practice focuses on enhancing human comfort with minimum resource use.

Dr Kessling has been instrumental in spearheading the energy concepts of prominent projects such as the Cooled Conservatories at Gardens by the Bay, Singapore; Zero Energy Office Building, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; and the Human Resources Headquarters at Novartis Basel, Switzerland. In the interview with Lakshmi Menon, he shares his critique on system-centric building design practices of today, at the wake of an impending energy crisis.

LM: From physics to climate engineering, can you briefly chart your trajectory of practice?

WK: I studied nuclear physics until Chernobyl, the nuclear catastrophe that happened in Ukraine. In April 1986, I changed from nuclear physics to solar physics. This made me relook at energy sources and understanding the potential that solar energy holds. Thereafter, I worked as a researcher for 10 years, investigating and developing solar air-conditioning systems. In due course, I understood that it was quite important to make buildings better before employing systems to make them comfortable. Better-designed buildings decrease the need to rely on energy sources.

This ideology brought me to Transsolar, which was founded at that time by friends of mine. Most of them came from similar research backgrounds. Our worldviews suggested that we rethink our buildings before we negotiate with the energy systems that enhance them. In this manner, if one can reduce the demand for energy, the debate on renewable versus non-renewable sources becomes meaningful. This is where we are at in Transsolar. We essentially strive to make buildings comfortable from an energy standpoint.

LM: You are a physicist. Does not being from an architectural or engineering background impact the way you think about buildings?
WK: So in our attempt to make building designs better, we focus on the fundamentals of physics. It’s not so much about applying rules of thumb, codes of practice, etc., which everyone is trained to do. For us, everything to do with the building distils down to the thermodynamics of its constituents. We closely study the performance of materials and how their attributes impact the performance of the building in totality. I could say that my scientific background helps me think about performance.

I cannot draw too well nor am I a good designer—but I monitor the performance of the building that is linked to design decisions. For example, how does glass as a material used as a design strategy for shading perform in different climatic contexts? This is what makes climate engineering powerful—we fundamentally study the performance of materials. We look at buildings and system performances, microscopically yet holistically. It does sound complex and difficult but here lies the opportunity to innovate and improvise market norms.

LM: Then how do you get across to people about the importance of your work, given the complexity?
WK: The answer to this is two-fold. Today, we convince our clients, architects and other practitioners best by built examples. It’s easier to showcase quality intended for a new project, by letting stakeholders experience them first-hand in our completed projects. But it wasn’t like that earlier—people could not understand what climate engineers like us were up to. But as years passed, and our projects got built, our roles in the design process became more clearly defined. The projects become the realisation of an integrated design process that we believe is the crux of all the work we do.

To read the complete article, get a copy of the May-Jun 2017 edition at our online shop or at newsstands/major bookstores; or subscribe to FuturArc.

Previously Published FuturArc Interview (Abstracts)

Mar-Apr 2017

Suhasini Ayer-Guigan is one of the pioneer practitioners of sustainable architecture in India. She co-founded the Auroville Centre for Scientific Research and currently heads Auroville Design Consultants.


Jan-Feb 2017

Mike Guerrero is perhaps one of the most active personalities in the Philippines’ sustainability front. His design ethos hinges on the principles of good design, and his work is a showcase of intense passion and advocacy on sustainability.


Nov-Dec 2016

Chitra Vishwanath is an architect based in Bengaluru, India. She is one of the influential architects in making sustainability a household term in India.


Sep-Oct 2016

Bill Browning is widely regarded as one of the foremost thinkers and strategists in the world of Green design, and an advocate for sustainable design solutions.


Jul-Aug 2016

Born in Jakarta, Indonesia, Sigit is an emerging architect and urban designer best known for his design projects and research in architecture, urban planning, and environmental and social community movement.


May-Jun 2016

In her seminal book—Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature—she described an emerging discipline that emulates nature’s designs and processes to create a healthier, more sustainable planet.


Mar-Apr 2016

The roots of architect Harrison Fraker’s distinguished career lie in the US energy and environmental crises of the 1960s and 1970s. A key figure in the development of US environmental design, Fraker founded the University of Minnesota’s architecture school. 


Jan-Feb 2016

A pioneer of biomimicry, Michael Pawlyn founded his London-based practice Exploration Architecture in 2007 to concentrate on solutions found in biology. He was shortlisted for the Young Architect of the Year Award and the Buckminster Fuller Challenge in 2008. 


Nov-Dec 2015

Madhura Prematilleke, at one point, was seen to be anti-Bawa by some in the architecture fraternity in Sri Lanka. This was a misreading of his position on the well-known Sri Lankan architect, Geoffrey Bawa. In an interview with FuturArc editor-in-chief, Dr Nirmal Kishnani, he explains why the Bawa legacy is complex.


Sep-Oct 2015

David Orr headed the effort to design, fund and build the Adam Joseph Lewis Center, which was named by an American Institute of Architects (AIA) panel in 2010 as “the most important Green building of the past 30 years”, and as “one of 30 milestone buildings of the 20th century” by the US Department of Energy.


Jul-Aug 2015

The Singapore hospitals that Liak Teng Lit has managed as CEO—particularly Alexandra and Khoo Teck Puat—are seen to be game changers in design for healthcare. He is now the chairman of Singapore’s National Environment Agency.


May-Jun 2015

Rahul Mehrotra is an architect, urbanist and educator. He is founder principal of RMA Architects, Mumbai, as well as professor and chair of urban planning and design, at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design.


Mar-Feb 2015

Chrisna Du Plessis has been both an articulate advocate and a blunt critic of the sustainability movement, a global thought leader often seen presenting keynotes at sustainability conferences worldwide. 


Jan-Feb 2015

Robert Engelman is a Senior Fellow at the Worldwatch Institute, a globally focused environmental research organisation based in Washington, D.C. He originally joined Worldwatch as vice president for programmes and was named president in 2011. 


Nov-Dec 2014

Daniel Kammen is an internationally known energy expert, and former Chief Technical Specialist of the World Bank’s renewable energy and energy efficiency programmes. Kammen is a professor at the University of California – Berkeley’s Energy and Resources group.


Sep-Oct 2014

Ridwan Kamil is an award-winning architect and urbandesigner who, since September 2013, has been mayor of Bandung city, Indonesia. Dr Nirmal Kishnani, met with Mayor Kamil at the 2014 World Cities Summit in Singapore, where they talked about how being an architect affects his worldview as mayor.


Jul-Aug 2014

Considered one of the most influential individuals in the Green building movement today, Jason F. McLennan’s work has made a pivotal impact on the shape and direction of Green building in the United States and Canada. He is a much sought-after presenter and consultant on a wide variety of Green building and sustainability topics around the world..


May-Jun 2014

The FuturArc Competitions Jury, by Dr Nirmal Kishnani

Over two days in March 2014, four experts—Adi Purnomo (Indonesia), Sanjay Prakash (India), Vo Trong Nghia (Vietnam), and Nirmal Kishnani (Singapore)—met in Jakarta to decide on the winners of FuturArc Prize and FuturArc Green Leadership Award. The fifth juror—Herbert Dreiseitl (Germany)—joined via teleconference.


Mar-Apr 2014

The foundation focuses on capability-building and employment-generating projects and is known for initiatives such as the Design Against the Elements (DAtE) competition, Liter of Light, and the Bottle School project. Since 2008, when he was named a Young Global Leader of 2008 by the World Economic Forum in Geneva, Diaz has garnered accolades and much international media attention to his cause.


Jan-Feb 2014

Ada Fung has no easy job. As deputy director in charge of Development and Construction at the Hong Kong Housing Authority, she literally must answer to millions. As of mid-2013, approximately 30 percent of the Hong Kong population lived in flats developed and managed by the Authority.


Nov-Dec 2013


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