Life = Water + Energy
Over five days we battled our way through the ISH trade fair jungle and found much to be stimulated by. Along with the digitalization of buildings, the sanitary and heating sector is increasingly changing – and is looking for answers to the questions of our time. Our review of the trade fair.
When the ISH trade fair opens its gates every two years, the eyes of building services engineers as well as bathroom experts are focused on Frankfurt am Main. The “World’s leading trade fair for The Bathroom Experience, Building, Energy, Air-conditioning Technology and Renewable Energies” informs architects, engineers, designers, craftsmen, and professional visitors from the building industry about new sanitary solutions and developments in bathroom design, energy-efficient heating technologies and sustainable building services one should not miss. This year, the excitement was particularly great because digitalization, which has infused the building sector for several years, does not bypass the heating and air-conditioning industry. Likewise, it does not stop at the bathroom, traditionally a place for substantial and corporeal things. In the future, there will be numerous possibilities of technologization and networking available in this area, through to express medical analysis for health self-checks.
"Water.Energy.Life." was the title the trade fair company chose for this year’s ISH, a motto which at least clarifies what technologization and digitalization are basically about: people and their way of living. People are, after all, the connecting element of the entire ISH, which was as usual divided according to the topography of the exhibition grounds into the sections of Energy and Water. According to expectations, both areas presented fireworks of novelties. As is generally known not everything new is necessarily innovative, but our World-Architects Guided Tours and editorial research have nevertheless given us great “product pleasures” that are worth taking a closer look at.
This much can already be said: This year’s ISH was once again characterized by several general trends, which exhibitors have obviously approached quite individually. As is usual, design lovers were again in good hands in Halls 3.1 and 4.1 as well as in the Festhalle including the Foyer, where one can easily spend a whole day. Manufacturers like Dornbracht, Alape, Zuchetti Kos, Hewi, VitrA, Bette, Laufen, Grohe, Axor/Hansgrohe or Villeroy & Boch, to name but a few, impressively demonstrated that the imaginativeness of the designers is still substantial. Thereby, formal reduction is still one of the main trends, but it is increasingly superseded by expressive, sometimes luxurious trends. Bronze and gold are combined with warm, natural materials and textiles, resulting in a new mixture of elegant feelgood reduction.
Even though people spend a comparatively short time in the bathroom, this period should be practical but also address all the senses. Manufacturers have given much thought to this famous “little break of the day.” The outside world is crazy enough at the moment, so the bathroom may gladly turn into a retreat, a “private spa” with, preferably, plenty of luxury and technological solutions. For example, lamps integrated in the frame of the mirror can be individually adapted in terms of color, shape and intensity (e.g. Keuco) or the weather forecast including news headlines can be conjured onto the mirror face by means of a smartphone app (VitrA). Those attaching special importance to automatic health checks can have their urine analyzed by the toilet and the results sent to their smartphone (Duravit).
At this year’s ISH, one definitely could not miss the topic of the “shower toilet,” which in principle has been intensively addressed by all renowned toilet manufacturers. In terms of prices, everything was on offer, from a favorably priced entry-level model from 1,000 Euros (for example by Tece) to the middle price range around 4,000 Euros (for example by Laufen) to the luxury model for more than 10,000 Euros (by Toto). The Europeans – so far rather skeptical – shall be convinced of the shower toilet. This shall not only be achieved on the basis of the hygiene argument but also with the already mentioned “little break of the day,” which should turn a visit to the toilet into a feel-good experience.
On this occasion we also learned that, contrary to a widespread assumption, the shower toilet is not a Japanese invention; it comes from Switzerland. Engineer Hans Maurer from Zollikerberg near Zurich applied for a patent for the first shower toilet in 1957. When it expired after 20 years, Geberit launched a WC enhancement solution in 1978 and a complete system the year after. In 1980, the first Japanese development by Toto came into the market. Nevertheless, the shower toilet has been celebrated mainly as a triumph in Japan where people, due to their cultural background, approach this subject with a more direct attitude. Europe shall finally follow. Not least to convince visitors to the trade fair of the novel experience, Laufen (again from Switzerland) had two of its Cleanet Riva shower toilets installed at the trade fair stand – fully operational and ready to try. Truly an experience!
Also expected with great anticipation, in the ISH Energy section, was the latest progress in the development of fuel cell systems. While visitors still had to search for this technology at the previous ISH in 2015, a few more manufacturers exhibited such solutions this year. The main players like Viessmann still have corresponding systems in their product range and met with great interest. However, small companies also include the fuel cell in their portfolio. One of them is Elcore from Munich. At the trade fair the firm presented what is probably the smallest fuel cell system for single-family houses, which is slightly bigger than a proper junction box. The system is complemented only by a heat accumulator and, if required, an energy storage device.
By the way, all systems gain hydrogen for the fuel cell from natural gas. This process generates electricity and heat as well as CO2, but less than in conventional systems, as all of the manufacturers assert. Cogeneration units, which also generate electricity and heat, are similarly efficient. We discovered particularly compact CHPs (combined heat and power units) for single-family houses at RMB from Saterland near Bremen. Companies like ÖkoFEN from Austria even work with Stirling engines and pellets. The common aspect of all systems is research done into energy self-sufficiency of buildings by means of environmentally friendly technologies. The simpler, more compact, and ultimately cheaper these technologies are, the closer the companies will move towards this objective. In any case, ISH presented promising steps in this direction.
Networking and digitalization of heating systems were, of course, important topics. Nonetheless, we did not see truly innovative solutions in the field of “smart heating.” Each of the manufacturers go their own way, even though we hope that all components can be effortlessly networked via KNX. In other words: The integration of an intelligent heating system into the smart grid is the responsibility of a specialist engineer. Inasmuch as this specialist works independently, this is actually good news boosting competition.
So what remains for architects, specialist engineers and consumers after the ISH? Once again the trade fair illustrated how varied the planning of a building has become and will remain to be in the future. We live in a time that – driven by digitalization – is becoming increasingly faster-moving. Frequently, the consumer is overwhelmed by all the possibilities and innovations, not just technologically but also socially. The desire for simple answers is correspondingly high. This was clearly noticeable at the ISH. Especially smaller companies, partly start-ups, are gaining in attractiveness. The trend toward the “private spa” as a retreat can also be regarded as a countermovement to the complicated world. Many people ask themselves what is really needed in the clutter of possibilities – keyword: sufficiency. Users as well as planners are focusing on the essentials. How much technology is eventually sensible? Some manufacturers have become aware of this and seek good solutions. So the consumer can once again focus on what really matters, true to the trade fair motto: Water.Energy.Life.
This article originally appeared as "Leben ist Wasser plus Energie" on German-Architects. Translation by Bianca Murphy.