Below are comments I made on two blog posts by the architect and TV presenter Piers Taylor. As of writing my comments are still awaiting moderation. My responses may be of little consequence, but as a result of the huge public outcry at their non-appearance I felt compelled to reproduce them here.

In response to Piers Taylor’s blog posts on the 2nd and 5th of November 2013 :

After the “~~~~” I have re-posted my comment to your “Passivhaus – What Place the Particular?” post, since it was never published. Although you have altered your stance a little in this post my comments are still largely relevant.

“Passivhaus is THE standard that we should as a construction industry adopt. Just let’s not think that because something can be measured, that makes it always appropriate.”

The above still indicates confusion. At once accepting and denying the obvious: Optimising energy usage is always appropriate. Good design is always appropriate.

Design is measurement, whether in millimetres, kW or aesthetic sensibility. At best it is a glorious, and measured, interplay of art and physics. It always was and always will be.

passivhaus is the best tool for the thermodynamic aspect of a building’s measurement. It is design agnostic. And just like any great design it also has its imperfections.

The physics of thermodynamics has been either absent or thoroughly screwed up in UK domestic construction since the bronze age. Whether you like it or not reducing energy consumption of the buildings we live and work in is now a high priority. Thermal performance is not an option, it is a necessity.

I do hope no-one is beating anybody with sticks of any kind, but given the extreme nature of the historical failure it is hardly surprising that architects provoke a reaction when they publicly expose their confusion.

Of course passivhaus does not lead to “good architecture”, it helps lead to well applied physics. That is the major extent of its ambitions.

However, it is surely preferable that an unambitious, less talented architect should at least use the best tools available to limit the energy consumption of their designs?

A crap architect is going to produce a crap building, architecturally speaking. But if they are obliged to use PHPP the chanes of failure are greatly reduced in respect of the building’s energy performance.

Hello Piers,

My wife and I built the UK’s 1st certified passivhaus, Y Foel, and have now survived the best part of five years under her roof.

Neither of us has any professional connection to passivhaus or home design or construction of any kind. Yet once again I find myself responding to a professional who has somehow managed to grasp the wrong end of the stick.

For us the passivhaus clarity of concept has proven to be liberating, and its function far beyond anything we could previously have imagined possible. So I cannot help but feel a sense of despair every time I pass a new home being built to the confusion that is “Part L”, in ignorance of what could have been.

I say to you and all other architects that are sceptical of passivhaus: Fear not, it is just about as far removed from religion and dogma as any method relating to design and construction could be.

passivhaus pretty much says: “You can build whatever you like, wherever you like, out of anything you like…. as long as the building’s fabric does its level best to limit energy use through intelligent design and applied physics, not through mythology and guesswork.”.

20°C, 25°C, 15kWh/(m².yr), 10W/m² : Achievable targets, yes. Physics-based, yes. Design doctrine, most certainly not. Use PHPP and these datum points to get even <i>more</i> out of your designs, not less.

We used our own money to build Y Foel, and we were quite adamant about many aspects of its design. But when we started out in 2002 we had no idea that anything like passivhaus was remotely possible.

We did not have to compromise on the connection to the landscape. On the contrary, passivhaus enabled us to have our cake and eat (most of) it.

I have probably spent more time with more open windows in this house than anywhere else I’ve lived in Europe or the US. passivhaus provides that freedom too.

The only things we had to conform to were the local and regional planning regulations.

None of the passivhaus practitioners I have met could be described as Zealots: More an eclectic mix of lateral thinking designers, enlightened engineers and well seasoned hippies. But I share their frustration at having to constantly battle with misrepresentation, confusion and prejudice towards passivhaus.

The maddeningly sad thing is that most passivhaus sceptics seem to have little or no first-hand experience of life in a well designed passivhaus.

passivhaus is not “one size fits all”, but it is “the same physics applies to all”. Yes, I have seen the physics modelling mistakenly confused with a rigid design template, but only by the less well informed.

I share your prejudice against over regulation and legislation, but don’t allow that to prejudice your attitude towards the laws of thermodynamics.

My hope is that architects may come to embrace passivhaus as an ally: A precision tool to assist in the escape from the fog of mystical confusion that imprisons 21st century construction in the UK.

Please come and visit one day.