A Sustainable Approach to Education Facility Design with Elrond Burrell

Published: Thursday 12 March 2015

On February 19th, the Ministry of Education generously played host to a presentation by British architect Elrond Burrell. Attended by CefpiNZ members from Wellington and beyond, Elrond focused on Architype’s efforts to design schools in the UK to meet the challenging Passivhaus standard.

Throughout the slideshow presentation, Architype’s buildings were used as case studies to illustrate the challenges, opportunities, and strategies employed to deliver world-leading levels of comfort and energy efficiency. Examples of the verified performance of these buildings were quite remarkable, with heating and cooling bills cut by as much as 90% compared to conventional schools of similar size.

Potentially, one of the key factors that generated interest in Elrond’s talk was the fact that Architype have been able to deliver several schools, to Passivhaus standard, within the standard UK Department for Education budget for projects of their type, and with no additional programme. In the event, the question of cost was addressed briefly at several points, framed in a number of ways as the session developed.

Designers were asked to consider approaching low energy building from the standpoint of simplicity of design and construction, removing unnecessary detail and complexity rather than looking at Passivhaus as a bolt-on set of requirements or additional cost per se. One question from the audience prompted a short discussion as to how different procurement models can affect the viability of such schemes, and it was agreed that this issue applies equally to NZ as it does to the UK. Observations relating to the current baseline performance requirements for schools in the two countries were also made, both in terms of expectation, and in terms of the size of the performance – and therefore cost – gap between conventional construction and the highly insulated, airtight approach exemplified by Passivhaus. Recurring threads such as increased durability of the building fabric, and simplification of HVAC plant, pointed towards further reductions in cost throughout the life of the building.

Additionally, anecdotal accounts from users of existing Passivhaus schools revealed reduced absenteeism – among students and staff alike – as well as enhanced levels of concentration, enthusiasm, and engagement with the school environment.

Overall, Elrond’s presentation certainly provided plenty of food for thought, and the interest generated suggests that the application of Passivhaus to school design here requires further investigation, in order to fully quantify the value of the benefits it offers in the New Zealand context.

Max Gough

Stephenson Turner

Photo:  Wilkinson Passivhaus Primary School, Wolverhampton, UK.

Photographer - ©Dennis Gilbert/VIEW