by Mole Architects
Client Joan Morters
Awards RIBA East Award 2022, RIBA East Small Project of the Year 2022 (sponsored by Gaggenau)
This project has been driven by a client with a very clear sense of destination – the creation of a place to live after retiring as a city headteacher with as little environmental impact as possible: a desire for compact self-sufficiency. Having identified a site on the edge of a fen village she contacted Mole Architects to design her an appropriate house.
What emerged is an exemplar of the Passivhaus approach: an upside-down arrangement with a first floor kitchen, living room, and bedroom looking out for miles over the surrounding fens at both the back and front of the house, while the ground floor offers more introverted spaces, including a spare bedroom, utility spaces, and study. Externally, well-detailed larch board cladding combined with a butterfly roof and celebratory rainwater pipe offers a light-hearted reference to the agricultural tradition of farm buildings on the edge of fen settlements.
The client is evidently delighted, proudly indicating the house’s energy use, which regularly hovers close to zero. Her eminently practical approach has led to the installation of a lift and mid-level power sockets, in anticipation of future decline in mobility. Potential maintenance blackspots – such as beneath the kitchen cupboards – have been left exposed, allowing easy detection of leaks and access.
Although the design has not formally attained Passivhaus certification, it satisfies the principles set out by the approach. Actual energy use as a result addresses the RIBA 2025 benchmark, while the substantial contribution from onsite photovoltaics delivers its near off-grid operation. Throughout the construction, it demonstrates considerable attention to embodied carbon considerations, by utilising timber structurally (with cellulose insulation), as well as in cladding and finishing treatments. Even the decorative floor and paint finishes commendably include the application of bio-based alternatives. Furthermore, the project includes a rainwater harvester and several features to conserve water, as well as a notable garden with vegetable plots to exemplify the owner’s quest to achieve a self-sufficient lifetime home.
Environmental & Timber Frame Beattie Passive
Structural Engineer HA Consulting
Internal area 132 m2