A Visit to Two Passivhaus Schools Shows how far Green Building has come

21 May 2024

LLOYD ALTER: That’s me doing an impromptu presentation to students in the library at Harris Academy in Sutton, near London, with Christian Dimbleby of Architype Architects to the left. We are both wearing lanyards with our photos; it is harder to get into these schools than it is to get into Britain. Harris Academy and Hackbridge Primary School are both designed out of mass timber to the Passivhaus standard and Christian invited me for a tour.

Hackbridge is next door to the famous BedZed project, designed by Bill Dunster for Bioregional as a radical exercise in sustainable design. The lessons from the roughly 20 years separating the two projects are instructive.

BedZed was designed with passive solar heating, integrated photovoltaics, a combined thermal and power plant that never quite worked, and a lot of cutting-edge green technologies. According to developer Bioregional, “It remains, arguably, the most ambitious attempt at all-round sustainability in a major new housing development and has attracted thousands of global visitors.” It is one of the most interesting and important examples of sustainable design, but it has always been controversial.

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