The UN's Flagship Eco-building in Montenegro

Thu, 01/04/10

Podgorica has never had anything like it. And the ultra-green UN building that is going up in the city is an exciting new project for the United Nations too. Designed to be completely self-sufficient in energy, it's the first zero emissions office for any UN country team. 

Cutting edge design and construction will help ensure that the 1400 square metre office complex is highly efficient in its use of power. And an impressive range of renewables on site should deliver all it does require, including up to 195 kilowatts of solar powered electricity from a rooftop array of photovoltaic panels. The roof itself is perforated to allow natural light in and let excess heat out. Throughout the building, passive ventilation maximizes the benefits of air circulation to keep everyone comfortable inside. If that's not enough, in freezing winters or blistering summers, the temperature can also be topped up or cooled down with a heat exchange system using the waters of the adjacent Moraca river .

This building will set a new standard for the environmental performance of UN buildings, making it a great showcase for the UN's commitment to sustainability. But this kind of construction work requires sophisticated technical knowledge – and resourcing that expertise locally has been a key element of the challenge for the project team.

Montenegrin laws require the involvement of local experts and contracting companies, and working with them is recognised as the best way to promote the exchange of expertise and skills, in what is a new field for Montenegro. On the other hand, since no project of this type had previously been undertaken in the whole country, it was hard to find local engineering companies and experts who could actually deliver the programme of work. In the end it proved necessary for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), in charge of procurement on behalf of all UN agencies in the country, to extend the advertising time for recruiting local experts and to expand its search to neighbouring countries, particularly Serbia.

The 4000 square metre site generously donated by the city of Podgorica is a splendidly appropriate one for a project of this environmental significance, along the edge of the stunning Moraca river. Construction costs are being met by the Montenegrin government, while the Austrian Development Agency is funding the provision of environmental technologies by the World University Service of Austria. The UN agencies who will be housed in the building have pooled funds to pay for fitting it out, obtaining the necessary engineering services and paying the local suppliers. When finished, it will be a big boost for all five of them – the UNDP, the World Health Organization (WHO), the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).


Costs and benefits


The building costs to the UN have been minimized thanks to the generous contribution of the project partners [see table]. Ongoing operational costs have also been minimized through the careful design and construction of the building. 

Partner Contribution Purpose
The Government of Montenegro € 3.2 million (approximately) Construction of the building
Capital City of Podgorica Not Available Building site
Austrian Development Agency € 900,000 Architectural designTechnology and building services
UN agencies in Montenegro € 252,400 Project management and engineering plus the one-time fit-out items

The major achievement of the project is to create a showcase both for the UN and for Montenegro.  Using state of the art design, construction and technology, it has made the building self-sufficient in energy, with zero carbon emissions in its operation. "The UN has been a global leader on climate change policy and adaptation for years, but never before has it had a country office built to zero-energy standards like this," says Garret Tankosic-Kelly, former UN Inter Agency Focal Point in Montenegro.

Producing energy on-site, and using it more efficiently, should mean that energy bills are eliminated altogether. Any free renewable energy that is produced in excess of the building's own needs will be donated to the national grid. 

The savings achieved by the UN, in terms of reduced operational costs for the five agencies sharing the building, could also be used to support local development projects. Talks are being held on how Montenegro might benefit in this way. 

Other, less tangible benefits include an improved working environment for UN staff, strengthened relationships with local and international partners, and valuable learning and experience in sustainable construction for all project partners. 

Categories: Buildings, Energy