Low Tech - High Effect! An overview of sustainable low-tech buildings: realized best practice examples, innovative approaches, principles and systematic solutions

In this study approaches of low-tech buildings were examined and particularly innovative and representative concepts were documented in detail. The aim was to elaborate the current state of the art and the existing know how and knowledge on the basis of realized examples as well as to show potential for further development.

Short Description


Starting point / motivation

In recent years, building technologies developed fast from the low-energy building concept towards active building concepts. Numerous technical innovations and concepts in the field of energy conversion (solar thermal, photovoltaic, geothermal, etc.), energy storage and intelligent controls allow buildings to produce annually more energy than they consume. In some aspects, the rapid developments occurred isolated from a holistic approach and almost entirely took place in the technologically oriented sectors. The residue of some related fields, which could not follow this rapid progress, resulted in a lack of balance between energy savings, cost efficiency and user comfort. Hence, it seems beneficial to have a closer look on concepts of less complexity, automation needs and/or highly engineered solutions and to develop a knowledge base for sustainable low-tech buildings.

Contents and goals

The study Low Tech – High Effect! investigates and documents various approaches and potentials of low-tech buildings. In the first section, the concept of "SUSTAINABLE LOW TECH BUILDING" is defined in a scientific-technical discourse. At the end of this chapter, significant aspects are summarized in a comprehensive LOW TECH MATRIX, which includes considerations of an economic and energetic assessment of different approaches.

In the second section, the main part of the study, low-tech approaches are examined, documented and explored for their potential for sustainable building concepts. The documented low-tech examples follow the overarching structure: function, material and system. Even if the transitions are fluent and in all projects all levels can be found in more or less distinct form, there are different focuses with regard to which the least possible use of technology is sought. Thus, the "FUNCTION" level brings together projects with the primary objective of developing the "functionality", that is, to perform basic functions such as heating, cooling, ventilation and exposure with as little technology as possible and a high proportion of existing environmental resources. In the "MATERIAL" category, the focus is on the use of naturally occurring building materials. These should, on the one hand, have a minimum consumption of embodied energy and a maximum of up / recyclability. On the other hand, they aim at a conscious and economical handling of "material" per se and use specific material properties for the avoidance of technology. The "SYSTEM" level focuses on concepts whose goal is to ensure adequate management in the overall system. Cost-efficiency, special building standards or a long useful life are examples in which a sufficient use of available resources is demonstrated.

In the third part (Annex) a deepening documentation and the qualitative assessment with regard to the economic and energetic potentials of low-tech approaches (Annex I) are in focus. In a workshop with experts from planning, technology and research, low-tech approaches were discussed, evaluated and a representative number, the 10 INNOVATIVE BEST PRACTICE EXAMPLES from the categories office / service building, business buildings and housing, were selected for deepening documentation and editing. These are documented in the appendix to the study using the LOW TECH MATRIX and qualitatively evaluated for economic and energetic potentials.

In addition, two technical examinations "BIONIC POTENTIALS FOR LOW TECH BUILDING" (Annex II) as well as low-tech potentials are described by "SUFFICIENCY IN BUILDING SERVICES" (Annex III).


The Study Low Tech - High Effect! refers to the three fundamental dimensions of sustainability: ECOLOGY - ECONOMY - SOCIAL. This three-pillar model is extended by the component of the "institutions" or PARTICIPATION, which is in academic-political discourse designated as "cultural" or "political-processual". The expansion appears to be important, since many regional building traditions on the one hand as well as more self-responsibility and self-activity on the other hand are fundamental components of low-tech building concepts. Based on this, the following points were defined, which characterize a low-tech construction that is considered to be sustainable:

  • ECOLOGY = climate-friendly and resource-saving construction, which is largely based on existing environmental resources (climate, location and origin) for the operation
  • ECONOMY = sufficient, robust and cost-efficient construction, which aims at a reduced technology share over the entire life cycle (production – operation – dismantling)
  • SOCIAL = needs-oriented, comfortable standards that ensure adequate supply and disposal as well as avoid potential hazards and food competition
  • PARTICIPATION / CULTURE = simple, comprehensible and self-responsible construction, which strengthens self-construction, self-sustained maintenance and the regional building culture.

It should be emphasized that sustainability can only be achieved if all four aspects are taken into account in a sufficient and balanced relationship. The fulfillment of sustainability criteria should also be considered and evaluated across the entire life cycle. As a result, "Sustainable Low-Tech Buildings" are also the basic goal of a low use of technology over the entire life span. This includes the use of technology in the planning and construction phase, as well as in the operating or renewal phase or the reconstruction phase.


Based on the broad spectrum of ideas and realized examples, it becomes clear on how many different levels a "low-tech" approach can be considered. The selection is not to be understood as a complete collection. Rather, the objects are selected for different considerations as to how buildings can be optimized with a resource-conserving and technology-minimized approach. What is common to all projects is that they test one or several innovative low-tech components, aside from "safe" standards. It is also shown that innovative ideas often have their origin in a small individual building, where they are tested before they are used in large-volume buildings or building complexes.

Low-tech building in the (natural) context is already beginning with the course of zoning and is seen in this way as an order to (energy) spatial planning. In addition, essential foundations for low-tech buildings are laid during planning. Among others, these are: a critical analysis of demands, conservation of natural spaces through space-saving construction, minimization of consumption in terms of energy and operating resources, long-term use of building parts and buildings, short transport distances during construction and operation, and finally the use of reusable or recycled construction products and dismantling.


The documentation is intended to stimulate further research and to study buildings in more detail, which appear interesting for implementation. For a successful development in the direction of low-tech construction, the integral and transdisciplinary planning of science and technology should have priority. In this context, questions or research topics on "experimental (low-tech) buildings", with as few specifications as possible regarding implementation and technical standards, could bring to light creative ideas.


Low Tech – High Effect! Eine Übersicht über nachhaltige Low Tech Gebäude

In dieser Studie wurden Ansätze von Low Tech Gebäuden näher betrachtet und besonders innovativ und repräsentativ erscheinende Konzepte detailliert dokumentiert. Ziel war es, den derzeitigen Stand der Technik und das vorhandene Know-how und Wissen anhand realisierter Beispiele aufzuarbeiten sowie Potenziale zur Weiterentwicklung aufzuzeigen. Series 20/2017
Edeltraud Haselsteiner, Andrea Bodvay, Susanne Gosztonyi, Anita Preisler, Michael Berger, Bernhard Gasser
Publisher: BMVIT
German, 192 Seiten

Publication Downloads

Project Partners

Project management

DI Dr. Edeltraud Haselsteiner

Cooperation partner

  • Dr. Andrea Bodvay
    FH Campus Wien Forschungs‐ und Entwicklungs GmbH
  • DI Susanne Gosztonyi
    Energy and Building Design Architecture and Built Environment, Lund University
  • Anita Preisler, MSc., DI Michael Berger, Bernhard Gasser, Msc.
    teamgmi Ingenieure für Energieeffizienz und Komfort

Contact Address

DI Dr. Edeltraud Haselsteiner
Märzstrasse 158/20
A-1140 Wien
Tel.: +43 (699) 1 269 80 82
E-mail: edeltraud.haselsteiner@aon.at