Projects: Centre for Disability Studies, Essex

Centre for Disability Studies, Essex

Keywords: passivhaus

The Centre for Disability Studies called for a new Passivhaus certified non-domestic building, targeting the BREEAM excellent rating. The brief called for a building which would provide headquarters and training facilities for Disability Essex and meeting spaces for the charity’s staff, clients and visitors as well as a combination of high levels of thermal comfort, low running costs and CO2 emissions. ‘This cutting edge building has been designed to use robust, ‘conventional’ construction, but derives its very low energy performance and high comfort levels from a mixture of advanced design and modelling, innovative construction detailing and advanced, yet simple building products’. Additionally, the charity wanted to generate energy on site by installing a P.V. system not only to reduce CO2 emissions but also to generate additional income.

The idea for the new eco-building came as a result of the charity identifying the urgent need for new facilities to meet an increasing demand for specialist disability services. By choosing to design and construct the entirety of the building with sustainable theory and methodology, the charity was looking to minimise its impact on the environment as well as creating a bespoke and flexible building with minimal running cost[s]’ (East of England Development Agency, 2010). The building, which is 553 sq.m., emphasises the use of cost effective ‘passive’ techniques; ensuring high levels of air tightness, super-insulation and passive solar gain. It also aims to achieve a 90% CO2 emissions reduction compared to current operational energy use. Its main focus is on maximising daylighting and passive solar gains in order to increase well-being and displace the use of electric lighting and gas for space heating. Subsequent sections will provide an in depth analysis of how building’s design and construction contributed in achieving this exceptionally high standard of thermal performance and energy efficiency providing low running costs and internal comfort for its users.

The building was designed as two linked buildings – a North Wing: Jean Strutt House and a South Wing:The Peter Broughton Wing connected by the intermediate buffer zone. While Wing A was designed to accommodate a foyer reception, training room, offices, kitchen, toilets and utility rooms, Wing B creates an open plan activities room. The link between the buildings, which acts as the

entrance hallway, consist of a single skin and was designed to allow for the settlement between the building elements. This area is neither cooled nor heated so it can become quite uncomfortable, but it was designed this way in order to avoid people congregating in the entrance
Separating the design into three distinct parts had a huge impact on achieving the Passivhaus standards.A good form factor (compact, simple design) means it is simpler to attain the required energy target, which then can be translated into more modest insulation values or, for example, slightly cheaper windows or other components. At first look, the plan for the Centre for Disability Studies may seem complex, implying that the form factor ratio is high and consequently better U-values are needed in order to reach the energy efficiency
targets. However, by studying the plan closely it can be noticed that two wings function as two completely separate thermal envelopes which were separately certified to the Passivhaus standard. This way of designing two compact forms joined together allowed the architects to achieve the low form factor needed for the Passivhaus certification, yet obtaining an architecturally interesting form.

Full photographic record of construction available here (
In the words of the Bishop of Bradwell, at the blessing ceremony, for this Centre:

“This beautiful building with its inhabitants, resides at comfort with it’s surroundings, consuming little from the environment, and contributing much to society.”

More info:

Pictures of the Royal opening in May 2011 with Architect, the Duke of Gloucester.
“The building is very warm…. What a beautiful building you have created.”



ENGINEERING: Bob Johnson Structural Engineers, Shrewsbury.




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