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10 years of Passivhaus: Beauty far from skin deep

At the close of the  tenth anniversary of the Passivhaus Trust in 2020, and gearing up for the hotly anticipated UK Passivhaus Awards shortlist for 2021, we have called upon Passivhaus experts to reveal their favourite projects from the past decade. 

Passivhaus Trust 10th Anniversary

Nick GrantNick Grant

Nick first heard about Passivhaus at the AECB. He attended the International Passivhaus Conference in Bregenz with Chris Herring in 2007 to debunk Passivhaus, and he has not looked back since.

Nick works as a freelance Passivhaus consultant and in association with other specialists who share his no-nonsense eco-minimal approach to sustainable design. Current projects include housing, offices and an increasing number of archives and museums. He is very keen on cost-effective design and enjoys building detailing and physically making things. Nick is one of the founding Directors of the Passivhaus Trust and has authored & peer reviewed several research papers.


What is your favourite Passivhaus project from the past decade?

Old Holloway Passivhaus. Juraj is an architect, self-builder and award-winning photographer, but this is a home that is surprisingly difficult to photograph and yet so easy to fall in love with when you visit.

Old Holloway Passivhaus


Why is this Passivhaus special?

Because it is the house I’d most like to live in, and because of the refreshingly honest approach to design. It gets my vote despite being a detached rural home, the supposed antithesis of sustainable living (pre-pandemic at least).

It breaks a lot of my usual rules! An L-shaped bungalow with a cathedral ceiling makes achieving Passivhaus harder, but here the indented veranda adds function and value and is very much used. A veranda could have been tacked-on rather than inset, but squaring the plan would have made the living room deeper than required or the bedroom too small. The welcome shelter from the west and the sense of enclosure would have also been lost. 

This home is so easy to fall in love with. It is the house I’d most like to live in, and because of the refreshingly honest approach to design.... This is a beautifully crafted home that must be experienced to be fully appreciated.


This house boasts fitting thoughtful design, rather than superficial articulation justified by assumed planning requirements or a fear of the boring ‘Passive’ box. Juraj did his own PHPP so he couldn't blame the energy consultant for cramping his style.

The site is south-facing in a small village within cycling distance of work and shops. However, there were many challenging constraints such as a modest budget and the need to get the approval of the plot’s former owner, Prince Charles. I’d argue that it was the designer’s skill in responding to the constraints that make this such a great home. 

Old Holloway Passivhaus

There are some (self-aware) architectural indulgences. The naturally coloured clay plasters, carefully selected aggregate for the polished slab, charred cladding, and exquisite joinery details are a few of the lovely touches that will be best appreciated by connoisseurs.

But beauty is far from skin deep. I believe it would still be a great home even if the time and budget had not allowed for these personal touches, as is evident from the skilful use of low-cost materials elsewhere, such as the black-painted crinkly tin roof. This is simply nailed on with enough overhang to provide shade, protect the walls, and therefore not require gutters. It's a genuine vernacular solution, using an economical material to solve a problem. It avoids the usual architectural affectations of painfully detailed custom fabricated trim or concealed gutters in an attempt to make ‘a reimagined reference to the rural vernacular’ – or cultural appropriation in any other context.

Old Holloway Passivhaus Old Holloway Passivhaus


The construction uses the Passivhaus certified EcoCocon prefabricated straw panel system that has Cradle to Cradle certification. It was the first building in the UK to use this system and as much as I like it, again it is not the key reason I think the building is so noteworthy. To my mind, this is a beautifully crafted home that must be experienced to be fully appreciated. A breath of fresh air in a world of clichés and design for Instagram.


Old Holloway straw

Old Holloway Passivhaus

A key tip for those starting a similar project?

My only disappointment is that, like my own house, the space heating is provided by a wood stove! As the sole source of heating, it does get lit, but you can forget any idea of sitting around a crackling fire. It has always gone out by the time we have arrived for an evening.



What are you expecting from the next cohort of UK Passivhaus Awards submissions?

I'm looking for buildings that I can point to as genuinely great design in the way I can point to examples of industrial design, cars, bikes, planes, lamps, furniture. 

Old Holloway interior 2018 UK Passivhaus Awards Finalist Small Projects


Call for entries

A call for entries to the 2021 UK Passivhaus Awards will open shortly. Watch this space!


Further Information

Old Holloway Passivhaus - 2018 UK Passivhaus Winner – Small residential category.

Old Holloway Passivhaus 

UK Passivhaus Awards Hall of Fame

7th January 2021

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