It is scientifically undeniable that we live in a warming world with greater unpredictable climate change due to human activities. The more we disrupt our climate with increased carbon emissions from the burning of non-renewable fossil fuels, the more we risk severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts. As inhabitants of this beautiful and precious planet that we all call home, we have a responsibility to make decisions that mitigate and ensure its protections from destructive activities. As architects that have an influence on how the built world is shaped, we have a duty to guide and direct the way we live in the world, physically and socially. From the specification of materials, the organization of space, the selection of the building systems, to our response to a site’s geographical conditions, as well as other factors, architects have the ability to redefine the relationships we have with our environment and to limit climate change towards creating more just, resilient and sustainable communities and collective future.
Super storms Katrina and Sandy and Hurricanes Harvey and Maria are becoming more frequent. New York City is responding to climate change by aggressively setting the goal to be the most sustainable big city in the world and a global leader in the fight against climate change. In September 2014, NYC committed to 80 by 50, amending and transitioning its Building code and NYC Energy Conservation Code (NYCECC) to meet the its sustainability goals.
- New York City’s greenhouse gas emissions will be 80 percent lower by 2050 than in 2005.
- New York City will send zero waste to landfills by 2030.
- New York City will have the best air quality among all large U.S. cities by 2030.
- New York City will clean up contaminated land to address disproportionately high exposures in low-income communities and convert land to safe and beneficial use.
- New York City will mitigate neighborhood flooding and offer high-quality water services.
- All New Yorkers will benefit from useful, accessible, and beautiful open spaces.
UAI recognizes that we cannot continue to conduct business as usual if we are to meet or exceed these goals. Many of the sustainable measures we integrate into our designs such as low-flow fixtures, low/no VOC finishes, high albedo roofing and hardscapes, high-efficiency boilers, Energy Star lighting fixtures and appliances, native and adapted landscaping, etc. have become our norm, but that simply is not enough. As an office we are committed to pushing the envelope as well as our comfort level by responsibly practicing architecture that designs sustainable structures towards strengthening and creating more resilient communities. We see the Passive House design approach as a way to achieving highly resilient and energy efficient buildings, 70-90% better than conventional designs.
An informational post by NY Passive House outlining 11 reasons for considering the Passive House standard, is summarized below,
- It fundamentally addresses the climate crisis imperative.
- It is a global building energy performance standard. While the energy standard is uniform for all, the paths to achieve it are widely varied and necessarily incorporate local climate and building tradition specific optimization.
- Its development is a global collaboration.
- It produces a predictable product.
- It is affordable in both construction and occupancy. The methodology results in only an added overall construction cost premium of approximately 5% to 10% because the construction costs for high performance elements are substantially offset by a reduction in heating and cooling systems sizing.
- It produces the most comfortable and healthy indoor environments.
- It’s a catalyst for local manufacture of high-performance products.
- It enables storm resilience. In the coldest weather, without power, a Passive House can achieve safe interior temperature equilibrium of approximately 55 degrees Fahrenheit indefinitely.
- It enables nearly zero energy buildings.
- It enables a more resilient power grid.
- It locks in energy savings for future generations.
UAI believes in the Passive House design approach because it addresses real and immediate issues that impact our lives and future generations. This tested approach is yielding successful projects throughout the world as the design standard is inherently based in building science. It precisely takes building science and location-based data to calculate the building insulation, air sealing, window type, thermal bridge threshold and HVAC systems needed to design an energy efficient building. UAI’s first building designed to the Passive House standard is Bonner Place Senior Renaissance and Daycare.
The Passive House concept focuses on five key principles:
1. Insulation: A well-insulated building envelope keeps warmth in during the cold months and heat out during warmer months.
2. Passive House windows: Strategically positioned, highly insulated windows do their part to make optimal use of the sun’s energy.
3. Ventilation with heat recovery: Passive House ventilation systems provide plentiful fresh, pollen and dust-free air with maximal energy efficiency through heat recovery.
4. Airtightness: Passive Houses are designed to avoid leakages in the building envelope, thus boosting energy efficiency while preventing droughts and moisture damage.
5. Thermal bridge free design: Avoidance of thermal bridges, weak points in the building envelope, contributes to pleasant, even temperatures while eliminating moisture damage and improving energy efficiency.
UAI sees the Passive House standard as a new challenging opportunity for designing and detailing better, more efficient buildings for our clients. This is a part of a larger paradigm shift. If we are to make a positive impact towards mitigating climate change and protecting the resources we have for our collective future, we must change the way we approach and design the structures that shelter us.
For more information about the Passive House design standard,
Passive House Institute, https://www.passiv.de/en/
New York Passive House, https://www.nypassivehouse.org/
North American Passive House Network, https://www.aphnetwork.org/
International Passive House Association, https://passivehouse-international.org/index.php