“Innovation is sweeping through the construction sector.”
FNF 2023 | 06.09.2023

Jerry Krattiger (Photo: STEMUTZ.COM)

Substantial state investment in research and development have helped Fribourg’s construction sector to become more robust and prepare for future upheavals affecting the industry. Interview with Jerry Krattiger, Managing Director of the Fribourg Development Agency.

Why did you choose to dedicate this edition of Fribourg Network Fribourg to the construction sector?

Diversification is not only one of the Fribourg economy’s strengths, but it has also made it more resilient. At the same time, we are in the fortunate position to have several big hitters too, like the construction industry. According to official statistics, it accounts for 10.9% of employment in the canton, almost three percentage points higher than the Swiss average. But these figures are pretty conservative. We estimate that more than 20% of employment in Fribourg is generated by sectors that are linked, directly or indirectly, to construction and energy efficiency. The boom in the bio-sourced materials sector prompted us to include the construction industry in the strategically important bioeconomy.

What is your take on the radical transformation happening in the sector?

The climate challenge coupled with ever-diminishing resources are forcing the industry to reinvent itself and embrace sustainability. During Switzerland’s presidency of EUSALP (the European Union’s macro-regional strategy for the Alpine region), Fribourg successfully hosted a major international conference on the circular economy that demonstrated the importance of construction innovation. Whether it’s the large-scale use of wood, reducing the environmental impact of concrete, or the unprecedented use of decarbonized steel and re-use pilot projects, the canton is leading by example. Other high priorities for us are Industry 4.0 and the development of digital tools, particularly in connection with BIM modelling and energy-efficient buildings.

Do we also need to think about the evolution of the built environment?

Yes, now more than ever. The groundbreaking redevelopment of the Richemont Group campus is a tangible example of how major companies are adapting to new workplace realities. Demographic, social and environmental challenges will also dramatically transform housing in the decades to come. We can expect initiatives at the individual building, neighborhood and city scales. Thanks to generous investments, experts at the Smart Living Lab, a center of research and development dedicated to the built environment of the future, are able to conduct wide-ranging, transdisciplinary research into building design processes, construction technologies, energy systems and user well-being. Innovation is sweeping through the construction sector.

Would you agree that the entire bluefactory innovation district, which is home to the Smart Living Lab, is a model of smart urban planning and sustainability?

Bluefactory, which is co-owned by the Canton and City of Fribourg, is resolutely forward-looking and a role model when it comes to the efficient use of energy and resources. The site has an excellent carbon footprint, and its ‘sponge city’ status makes it a Swiss water management pioneer. The current development phase includes the construction of building B and the Smart Living Lab facility. Both of these buildings will be constructed from timber and will form the centerpiece of the bluefactory site. They will also meet stringent sustainability standards. Thanks to building B, which is set to open at the end of 2023, the district will be able to grow its 60-strong community of innovative companies.

What about knowledge transfer?

I am a firm believer in technology transfers (see FNF 2021) and I would like to see these capabilities scaled up. The Smart Living Lab, the Building Innovation Cluster (BIC), which brings together industry players and provides the sector with a fresh impetus, coupled with a wealth of high-performing companies, big and small, are helping to create an environment where partnerships can be forged, and innovative projects can take shape. The conditions are excellent, the skills and the will are there, so all we need to do is harness their collective power to build our future!