Divine insulation: passivhaus architecture

Divine insulation: passivhaus architecture
The Austrian embassy in Jakarta, an early example of a Passivhaus building in the tropics / © Pos Architekten

As global temperatures reach record highs, developers of cool, energy-efficient houses are in demand

The period between 2011 and 2015 was the warmest on record, with 2015 the warmest year of all, according to the World Meteorological Organisation. As a result, “cooling energy use” — air-conditioners and devices of similar ilk — in residential and commercial buildings will grow 84 per cent between 2010 and 2050, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicted in 2014.

“With rising average temperatures and improved lifestyles, the demand for cooling systems in many regions can only increase,” says Christoph Frei, secretary-general of the UN’s World Energy Council. The combination of a world that is warming up and a population that wants to cool down poses an architectural quandary: how to design buildings that can maintain a comfortable temperature without consuming quantities of energy that contribute to further climate change.

Could pioneering attempts to build energy-efficient “Passivhaus” buildings in the heat and humidity of the tropics provide answers? Passivhaus, which originated in Germany in the 1990s, is the fastest-growing — and most rigorous — low-energy construction standard in the world. Until recently, most Passivhaus buildings — some 30,000 — have been constructed in temperate climates, mainly in Europe, where the emphasis is on reducing heating bills by as much as 90 per cent. Now architects are applying Passivhaus design principles in hot climates, reducing buildings’ cooling bills by a similar degree.

The Austrian Embassy in the Indonesian capital Jakarta, completed in 2011, is an early example of a Passivhaus building in the tropics. The two-storey embassy uses 85 per cent less energy per sq metre than a conventional air-conditioned office in Indonesia, report the project’s energy consultants, New Energy Consulting. Not only does the 1,035 sq metre building cost less to cool and emit less carbon than an ordinary office block, but staff say it’s more pleasant to work in. “The old embassy building was very uncomfortable [temperature- and humidity-wise],” says Michael Jan Swoboda, counsellor and consul at the embassy until 2012. “This new Passivhaus building is far better. The building, the interior humidity and the temperature are excellent. Our staff and our guests are very pleased about the comfort,” he says. […]


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