Part 2 of Megan Brown’s Passive House series. Read Part 1 here.
There is a wall in Boston’s Logan Airport depicting famous first events in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts: from the first use of anesthesia to the development of the first chocolate chip cookie (personally, I am very grateful for both). There is something inspiring about viewing the timeline of history and both appreciating the adventurers that attempted these ‘firsts’ as well as how far we have come since.
The events highlighted on the airport wall are powerful not just because they are the first, but because they were not the last. Momentum grew as reproductions of the same event or product spread around the world, impacting societies and changing history.
Right now, the ‘firsts’ in the world of architecture that excite me the most are beautiful examples of high-performance buildings that counter the norm. Since this article is part of a blog post series about the impact of Passive House, I am most excited about the buildings achieving the rigorous Passive House standard in typologies that had not been previously attempted.
The overwhelming majority of certified PH projects are single family or multi family dwellings, with plenty of incentives to continue building Passive for both typologies (let’s not stop). Having worked solely on commercial projects, I am particularly excited to see new commercial typologies embrace the standard. Here are a handful of projects around that world that are breaking the norm and became a ‘first’ in the world of architecture:
PH Hospital in Frankfurt, Germany
It is hard not to be completely ecstatic about a hospital achieving PH certification like the one in Frankfurt. Quite the accomplishment! I am equally excited, though, about amazing retrofit projects that are achieving the reno version of PH. Both the international and US certifying organizations (Passive House Institute and Passive House Institute-US) have a renovation standard that can accomplish the same goals as those for new buildings, taking into account the complexities and realities of working with existing constraints. The overall performance is not as stringent as new construction, but it is still very rigorous and significantly better than traditional retrofit approaches. We have an enormous existing building stock that needs to be reckoned with. I believe PH is the one of the best ways to move the mark on bringing those buildings up to par with climate and carbon goals.
All the ‘firsts’ on this list required a pioneering owner who embraced the vision for a better way to build and inhabit buildings. It required a design and construction team who invested in the details, technical execution and shunned the business-as-usual mindset. It required a coordinated effort to focus on the things that last and are truly impactful.
Now the challenge is to keep adding new ‘firsts’ to the list. I am excited for the first laboratory to be certified someday! We also need to keep adding ‘seconds,’ ‘thirds,’ ‘fourths,’ etc. Let’s not allow these pioneering buildings to be the first and last. Every single new project is an opportunity for radical improvement beyond the minimums required by code. We will only move the needle on climate change if we start building better now.
It is worth mentioning that design and construction teams will each have their own first PH project with a required learning curve. Tackling a standard that is new to the team can be daunting. Stakes are high when pursuing certification, but there is so much more to be gained by success. And each successful project will lead to others. Maybe we should be celebrating the ‘seconds’ even louder than the ‘firsts’ because it signals that teams continued to create healthier, more resilient buildings and they did not stop at one. Either way, let’s celebrate the success stories and keep pushing every opportunity to build better.