Accepted paper:

The contradictions of the Passivhaus


Rachel Harkness (University of Edinburgh)

Paper short abstract:

This paper looks at the energy-efficient style of housing called the Passivhaus in order to talk through ideas of efficiency and excess in terms of architectural design, materials, energy and labour.

Paper long abstract:

Drawing upon research with the designers, clients and builders of the energy-efficient style of building called the Passivhaus, this paper considers ideas of efficiency and excess in terms of architectural design, energy and labour. The paper will document the ways in which the style's 'efficiency' is linked to both a concept of passivity and one of building 'greener' or more sustainable futures, concepts that rest heavily and almost singularly on the idea of not allowing new architectures to add to the demands we place on the energy resources of the world in order to heat and cool our built environments. It will describe the painstaking efforts involved in making Passivhaus structures air-tight insulated and mechanically ventilated.

Yet, upon this closer inspection of the plans for and construction of a number of Passivhaus structures in Scotland, it becomes apparent that the efficiency of designs are complex orchestrations of energies, materials people and their sentiments. All of these are flows and efforts that bubble and froth, constantly push at containment and often overflow. Whether it's off-cuts from rolls of turf roofing materials, the excesses of sealant used to fill the gaps and joints and make the building airtight, the considerable efforts contractors go to to 'skill up' for the work at specialist training schools, or escapee polystyrene beads that should be in the wall cavities but tumble on to the muddy ground of the site - there is much here that pulls against the grain of concise, smooth-running efficiency!

panel P41
Efficiency and excess