Prof Wolfgang Feist, the founding father of the Passivhaus eco-building concept during his visit to the UEA. Photo by Simon Finlay

Mustard video: Passivhaus founder Prof Wolfgang Feist surveys plans for UEA enterprise centre

Wednesday, February 6, 2013
7.00 AM

The man who set the international benchmark for low-carbon buildings visited Norfolk to survey ambitious plans to construct the UK’s “greenest building” in Norwich.

Prof Wolfgang Feist, founder of the Passivhaus movement, was at the University of East Anglia to discuss plans for the Norwich Research Park (NRP) Enterprise Centre – a £15.9m project which is expected to go before a planning committee in March.

If it wins approval, the enterprise centre could become the largest Passivhaus building in the country and will ultimately become a centre of research and development for the eco-building movement within the UK.

After four hours sharing his ideas with the design team, Prof Feist said: “It is very impressive.

“They have a lot of interesting goals about small and medium businesses, and using local materials and I think this is the right way to go. It is very well designed.

“This will be a convincing solution, not only on the energy issue, but also on the purpose of the building, which is the most important thing, always.

“I think this is one of the first university buildings that is going to be built, even in Europe, and it is quite interesting to see the enthusiasm and the imagination of the whole crew.”

If approved, the planned 4,000 sqm enterprise centre would include teaching rooms and a 300-seat lecture theatre, supporting an estimated 500 local businesses, and creating more than 250 jobs.

Although it would be built to highly energy-efficient standards, its green credentials are also based on the low “embodied energy” in the construction materials.

That means using renewable natural products, sourced as locally as possible – including timber from Thetford, thatch-clad walling panels, and Norfolk reed, chalk and flint.

Project architect Ben Humphries, a director with London-based Architype, said: “Because Passivhaus is quite an emerging activity in this country we are, to a certain extent, pioneers within this country so it is good to have this validation and experience from Prof Feist.

“He has made some very practical suggestions where perhaps we had over-complicated the design. We are able to head into the detailed design phase of the project with a lot more conviction now we have had that validation from the top man at the Passivhaus institute.”

Whilst there are about 30,000 accredited Passivhaus buildings worldwide, there are only about 50 in the UK, including Hastoe Housing Association’s recently-built 14 homes in Ditchingham, near Bungay, which received their accreditation directly from Prof Feist during his visit to Norfolk.

Features of the homes include whole-house ventilation system, improved insulation, water-saving taps and shower fittings, low energy lighting, recycling facilities and solar panels.

John Lefever, Hastoe’s regional head of development, said: “Prof Feist told us it was the first time he had presented a certificate in person in the UK. We are delighted with the accreditation and to have him here was the icing on the cake. The development was a partnership with the local authority, the architects and the builders all coming together and the result is the tenants are living in properties that have very, very low running costs.”

Prof Feist also visited Broadland Housing Association homes in Fulmodeston, near Fakenham.