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Last Updated: Sunday, 7 November, 2004, 20:24 GMT
Italy's green primary school
By Ben Richardson
BBC News business reporter in Rossiglione, Italy

Rossiglione, with the school building on the right of photo
Rossiglione's school (right) has been rebuilt from the ground up
The first thing you notice about the new primary school in Rossiglione, northern Italy, is the smell.

Despite the fact that it is brand new, there is no eye-stinging stench from chemicals, glues and fresh paint.

Instead it has a warm woody odour that is more afternoon walk than building site.

Set deep in the Ligurian hills, about 30 winding minutes from Genoa, Rossiglione is home to a project that the European Union hopes will provide a blueprint for future constructions.

Partly-funded by Brussels, partly by the local council, the sleepy village is home to one of Italy's first environmentally friendly schools.


"It is a project that aims to illustrate how things can be done," explains Luciana Zuaro, an architect working on the project.

"People say that bio-architecture is either something for the rich or for private companies, but we need to get it out into the mainstream, the public sector."

Inside of the Rossiglione primary school
The healthier the environment, the better off we are supposed to be

"That way, it is no longer a product of privilege but something that benefits us all," said Ms Zuaro, kicking up a cloud of dust as she heads into the unfinished secondary school that is being built next door.

Despite her ready laugh and wild hair, Ms Zuaro is not an isolated player on the lunatic fringe of her industry.

The issue of environmental, or sustainable, building is moving through the UK construction industry "like a hurricane", according to Ed Badke, director for construction and the built environment at the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors.

"You have a push-pull scenario," he explains. "The push comes from the government saying you have to do this. The pull comes from the consumers becoming more environmentally conscious."

Cheek by jowl

The changing construction landscape also plays its part.

With less land to build on, people are living closer together, increasing the need for better sound proofing, fewer emissions and greener living.

Drawing by a young girl at the Rossiglione primary school
Green credentials are visible from an early age

Britain has set out a target of cutting carbon emissions by 60% by 2050, and there is talk of requiring all new buildings to include some form renewable energy, such as solar panels.

"The issue is very much on the agenda," said Gary Clark, a project manager for Hopkins Architects in London.

"There has been a change of mindset as an industry and more architects are taking it seriously. The profession as a whole is fairly keen to push things along."

The total value of new construction projects in 2003 was 49.6bn (71bn euros; $91bn), according to RICS figures.

Sustainable building accounts for a small part of that total at present, but that is expected to increase with time.

"It's something that happens gradually," said RICS's Mr Badke. "But there is a definite trend from suppliers in the industry to respond to sustainability."

Driving force

In Rossiglione, Ms Zuaro is less keen to wait for change, ducking under scaffolding, checking finishes and asking workers for updates.

"What's interesting is the contrast between the building materials and the techniques that rely heavily on the past, but can be used today thanks to technological advances," she says.

Slabs of cork
Natural cork has more uses than just plugging wine bottles

Tiles are made from marble that has been ground down and baked hard; wires and circuit boxes are coated to cut emissions; blinds are incorporated into the double glazed doors and windows, and solar panels are used to generate electricity.

Windows are large to let in natural light, and even when they are closed, there is a current of air that helps the building and its inhabitants breathe.

Ms Zuaro is particularly pleased with the school's underfloor heating system.

There are none of the problems associated with maintaining and changing air conditioning filters - and in summer, the hot water is switched for cold, cooling the building.

An added bonus is that the system is fuelled by debris collected from the surrounding woods, cutting heating costs.

Too much?

The main complaint that has been levelled against "green building" is the extra costs that are involved.

Ms Zuaro estimates that the school in Rossiglione will cost between 15% and 20% more than a traditional building.

"If you want to do it on the cheap, then this isn't the method," she admits. "But it is about spending smart, rather than as little as possible.

"And what price do you put on public health?"

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