Passivhaus Design & Construct: Big on passion for Passive House and big on outcomes

Passivhaus Design & Construct

The Passivhaus Design & Construct crew

Dick Clarke, founder of Envirotecture, is pretty much an institution in the world of ecologically sustainable design and passive solar design. Now with fellow director Andy Marlow and a team of six, the pair have forged an enviable leadership space in this ultra-comfortable, low-energy standard in housing with an innovative adaptation of the old ‘design & construct’ business model to get early control of costs.

It usually takes only a single visit to a certified Passive House and “you’re hooked”, according to Dick Clarke and Andy Marlow from architecture studio Envirotecture.

Good air quality, comfortable temperature and soundproof interior are features you can expect from all such buildings. Then there are the less perceptible but equally important benefits of low energy use, longer lifespan for the building and the ability to block entry of pollens (great for those with allergies) and pollutants (including nasties from bushfire smoke and car fumes).

Andy Marlow
Dick Clarke

It’s no wonder both Dick and Andy are huge fans of this science-backed construction method, which relies on extreme airtightness paired with a heat recovery ventilation system.

Unfortunately, any new building method often comes at a price. That’s why the two Envirotecture directors and their team have worked hard to identify and minimise cost pain points.

A certified home in Thornleigh (the first in Sydney) is proof that the team can deliver Passive House certified homes at around about the same price as an architecturally-designed home. The team also has a Passive House secondary dwelling in Freshwater, which has just received certification.

Because achieving a tight building envelope can be a time-consuming, precision-heavy task, Andy says it’s critical to engage builders who are confident enough to build quickly but effectively (you don’t want to miss out on certification because of a rushed job!).

Prices to fall further

Envirotecture has teamed up with (initially) two expert certified Passive House building companies to create a version of the design & construct approach, to achieve high levels of certainty on cost from the outset. Called Passivhaus Design & Construct, the business name tells the story of what it does.

Envirotecture still does the design and documentation work, gaining all approvals in the usual way, and one of the builders is part of that process from the very first meeting. These ‘two heads’ work collaboratively on the design to ensure its budget viability, then the builder undertakes construction in the usual highly controlled ‘passivhaus’ way.

The hope – and expectation – is that the price of delivering these homes will drop even further as the price of specialised componentry falls and builders become more familiar with the method.

And both Andy and Dick are confident that as consumers start to understand the incredible health and comfort perks on offer from Passive House the market for the method will grow strongly.

There’s another driving force to their passion: the role of architecture in fighting climate change. In this they see Passive House buildings as key. While they are not automatically net zero, if you team up their low-demand energy source with renewables it’s pretty much an easy step to hit this golden (or green) target.

Both Dick and Andy would like to see architects in general lift their game in terms of understanding the technical fields that underpin good, sustainable design.

“If your building doesn’t work it’s a failure of a building, if you take away all the technical aspects, it’s just geometry,” Andy says.

Sustainability is core business for Envirotecture’s work and industry engagement

Envirotecture was dreamt up in the late 90s by Dick who spend the early years of his architecture career looking into what was then called “solar architecture” – the precursor to passive solar design.

By then sustainability had become a fully-formed design movement, and Dick decided to start his own design studio with the hope that “surely we can do things better”.

His involvement in the sustainability movement is now well known and influential.

He’s a prolific writer on the topic and has held a number of industry positions including as president of the NSW Chapter, Building Designers Association of Australia, and president and founding board member of the Association of Building Sustainability Assessors. He is also an Al Gore trained volunteer presenter of the Australian Conservation Foundation’s Climate REALITY Project.

Andy joined Envirotecture in 2008 but soon won a scholarship through Cox Architecture where he was involved in cutting-edge green building projects such as the Sustainable Buildings Research Centre at the University of Wollongong, which has been certified by the stringent Living Building Challenge.

He returned to Envirotecture as director in 2015 and now also a regular industry contributor speaking regularly at conferences and events including the Planning Institute of Australia and the Green Building Council of Australia.

Andy also likes to get involved in spreading the word to the broader built environment.

He’s a board member of the Australian Passive House Association, has been co-chair of the Australian Institute of Architects NSW Sustainability Committee, a member of the Property Council of Australia NSW Sustainability Committee and of the Green Building Council of Australia NSW industry group.

Today, the studio, based at Elanora Heights, designs buildings of all types, shapes and sizes but Passive House has become firmly embedded as a favourite. As the appetite for this grows, who knows, Passive House might just become an exclusive focus.

Passivhaus Design & Construct

Architecture | Sydney