Passive Houses Around the World


The original Passivhaus, Darmstadt, Germany. Photo courtesy of Passive House Premium

It’s been nearly a year since the launch of my blog and my first article about the Passive House/Passivhaus building standard, which makes it a good time to take a look at some notable projects around the world. In review, the concept of the Passivhaus (German) was born in 1988 during a conversation between two researchers, Bo Adamson and Wolfgang Feist. They discussed the ways in which new technology and design which worked in concert with their environment could be used to drastically reduce energy consumption and minimize a structure’s carbon footprint. While many of the ideas that have come to epitomize the passive house are nothing new (an igloo, for example utilizes many of the methods employed in a passive house), the scientific, technological, and industrial infrastructure capable of propelling the Passivhaus concept forward into reality was burgeoning for the first time. Adamson and Feist began researching their revolutionary ideas in earnest and by 1990, the duo had garnered enough attention and gained enough momentum to build a row of four townhouses in Darmstadt, Germany which were the first houses to utilize these new standards. The Passivhaus Institut was opened in 1996 near the site of the Darmstadt houses and set about on the task of researching and codifying standards for passive houses. These guidelines drastically limit energy consumption, as well as heating and cooling demand in an airtight structure through designs that utilize passive solar energy, passive natural ventilation, energy efficient landscaping, superinsulation and heat-trapping building materials, as well as energy-efficient appliances.

Today, there are more than 25,000 homes and businesses in Germany and around the world that meet passive guidelines. In fact, while in much of the world it is often still more expensive to build a passive house (at least in the short term) than a traditional home, competition between sustainable builders and manufacturers in Germany has lowered the cost of passive house construction to levels comparable with a standard home. Here are a  few of the recent passive house projects that have been built or are currently in development around the world.


Photo courtesy of Inhabitat

Bern, Switzerland
This 3 unit dwelling, located in Bern, Switzerland was designed by architect Peter Schurch of Halle 58,  and was the recipient of the 2010 Passivhaus Award. The building features a solar/electric roof and energy-efficient building materials. About half of the building’s facade is made of glass, providing ample natural light, and the structure was awarded the Swiss Minergie award for meeting the country’s stringent low-energy standard.

crossway house uk

Photo courtesy of Hawkes Architecture

Crossway House
Staplehurst, Kent
A mixture of medieval and modern design, Crossway House is one of the UK’s earliest passive houses. Built in 2010 and designed by architect Richard Hawkes, the design incorporates a series of passive design elements including a parabolic green, solar roof and high-performance recycled building materials.


Photo courtesy of Seymour-Smith Architects

Underhill House
Cotswolds, Warwickshire
Nestled in a hollow of earth beside an historic barn in the English countryside, Underhill House is the first certified Passive House to be built in the UK. Located in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), Underhill House utilizes the natural landscape to minimize its visibility and impact on the environment. Most of this home is literally under a hill, which acts as a natural insulator, and its battery of floor-to-ceiling windows face south to allow the maximum amount of natural light possible.

house of energy

Photo courtesy of Passivhaus Institut

House of Energy
Bavaria, Germany
This mixed-use structure is the first passive house to be Premium-certified, which means that its energy conservation capabilities exceed the 2021 guidelines for all buildings put forth by the EU. In fact, House of Energy actually produces 2-3 more times energy than it needs per year, which makes it not only a passive structure, but a Positive Energy Building (PEB). This energy surplus is achieved through the use of a photovoltaic system on the roof and an airtight building envelope, as well as a heat recovery ventilation system, and a pump that siphons heat from deep beneath the ground. The building was designed by Barbara Glantschnig of bg architecture.


Photo credit: OMOTE Nobutada

Kyodo House
Setagaya, Tokyo, Japan
Completed in 2015, this charming home, developed by Japanese design firm Sandwich, uses solar energy and smart design to ensure excellent airflow and the lowest energy usage possible. The entire structure is meticulously wrapped diagonally with reclaimed cuts of wood, and features a 2-story library, a rope-swing, and a tea room.


Rendering courtesy of VOLKsHouse

VOLKsHouse 1.0
Santa Fe, New Mexico
The VOLKsHouse 1.0, developed by MOSA Architects, is Passive House Certified and is a “net zero energy” structure, meaning that all of the energy it needs is produced by the building itself. This structure was also less expensive to build than comparably sized homes in the area. The design firm is currently in the process of completing VOLKsHouse 2.0, which promises to be even more sustainable and energy-efficient.


Rendering courtesy of Seymour-Smith Architects

Perry Pear Orchard
Cotswolds, Warwickshire
Perry Pear Orchard in Warwickshire UK, is being developed by Seymour-Smith Architects, the firm behind Underhill House. Like Underhill House, Perry Pear Orchard will be constructed in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and its design seeks to minimize visibility as well as its carbon footprint and energy consumption. The home is also equipped with a thermal bank, which allows it to store energy in the summer for use in the winter. Perry Pear Orchard will be the first Passive House Premium-certified building in the UK.


Courtesy of OpenStudio Architects

Swartberg House
Great Karoo, South Africa
Openstudio architecture designed this passive house to contend with South Africa’s climate extremes. The Swartberg House is made of brick, concrete, and sustainably-sourced ash wood, and is superinsulated to combat the region’s freezing cold winters. The home features passive stack ventilation, and northern windows equipped with wooden shades that soak up light and heat from the sun in the winter, and block it out in the summer. The home is also a stargazer’s dream, with strategically positioned wall slits and openings in the ceiling allowing views of the major stars and constellations.


The Marriott Family House
Christchurch, New Zealand
This might be the “housiest” of the passive houses featured here. The four bedroom, single family residential home features triple-glazed glass and superinsulated walls, as well as sustainably-sourced, high-performance construction materials to achieve a level of energy conservation far above the industry standard.


“Funkis”-style retrofit
One of the biggest obstacles facing the Passivhaus movement is the abundance of homes already existing that fall far short of the standard. This nearly 80-year old home which overlooks Norway’s largest lake, was originally built in the Scandinavian “Funkis” (functional) style. Through a partnership between Lasse Haldrup Juul and sustainable wood supplier Kebony, the home has been modernized and retrofitted to meet Passive House standards.

I’m excited to share that My Ditmas Park home’s renovations have finally begun, and so my home will soon be on the list of Victorian-cum-Passive Houses in the USA. Stay tuned for updates. If you would like to learn about how to retrofit or build your home to Passive House standards, please reach out. I’m passionate about and well connected in the New York City sustainable living world and I’d love to help you.

Categories: Design

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