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Palatine Passive House: Seattle Aesthetics, German Energy Standards

Posted by
on March 03, 2018 at 03:01 PM

Passivhaus is a building standard code developed in the 1970s as a result of coordinated efforts between German and Swedish researchers aiming to find a method to reduce energy consumed in construction and maintenance of buildings, mainly to counter the effects of the oil embargo being felt by the builders in the Pacific Northwest of USA. Though Passivhaus, probably named after the passive solar techniques employed in it, was voluntary to adoption, it demanded rigorous standards before a house or building could be certified as such. It translates as a whopping 85 – 90% reduction in energy consumption (without the support of any alternative fuel sources deployed) and a few tens of thousands of buildings across the world have been constructed in this (certified) method. A recent Passivhaus experiment is embodied in a charming Seattle house designed by Malboeuf Bowie Architecture.

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The Palatine Passive House, as this building has come to be called, is faced with a remarkably distinguished exterior that none can miss. The two and a half storey high monolithic gabled structure’s façade is clad in hand-charred cedar wood boards arranged in a beautiful herringbone pattern. This spectacular designer surface spreads over an almost unbroken plane; save for a dramatic narrow roof-high slit that accommodates a completely glazed pushed back strip with the main door at the bottom.

Cedar wood is as locally sourced as it can get, being a favourite material for building in the Pacific North Western USA where Seattle is located. It also blends charmingly with the visual aesthetics of the vibrant Greenwood neighbourhood. But, more importantly, it has been naturally treated in the Japanese Shou Sugi Ban method of pre-burning or charring, brushing off the burnt bristles and then oiling, so that it becomes resistant to fire, rot, pests and UV rays and lasts for 80 to 100 years without any maintenance, even in rainy Seattle!

The aperture free façade is integral to the requirements of a passive house design, which includes an air-tight envelope, continuous high performance insulation and solar gain optimisation. The ample glazed surfaces ensure an abundant supply of day-light to brighten up the all-white almost undivided interior volume, which is as monolithic as the exterior to ensure a homogenous ambient air conditioning. The openings provided on all the faces are designed to be air-tight when shut to enable perfect maintenance of internal ambience on all parameters. The house uses a continuously filtered heat and moisture recovery ventilation system that ensures the maintenance of heaIthy and comfortable air conditioning at all times. In fact, the ventilation, lighting, heat and apertures are all controlled through a phone app called Kirio which was tested by the app developers on this very house.

The entire home’s internal layout manages to ensure a continuous space for the air to circulate in. The lower level has an unbroken volume moving around an island of a kitchen, which connects through the double height stairwell to the upper level volume where the breaking of space by walls necessary for bedroom privacy is compensated by height in the loft area. This effort to minimise the division of spaces by walls often results in interesting details like the master bath or the kitchen.

Not just the walls, but the furnishings, too, are minimally styled with small splashes of bright colours against a sea of white and some grey. The resultant effect is quite attractive aesthetically, and also creates some warm informal and homely vibes. The exterior landscape surrounding the house is also stylistically minimal, and so is the car port at the rear, where family and friends can spill out for social occasions through a huge glazed opening from the living room, abutted by a wide flight of steps.

At a time when no one can deny the urgency for the building industry to be pro-actively aware of the need to check the growing size of its own ecological footprint, ventures like the Palatine Passive House serve as a charming nudge in the direction that encourages emulation..

Designer : Malbouef Bowie Architecture
Photography :internet resources

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