Seaton Beach in county Devon is the UK’s first multi-residential Passivhaus Plus building. We had a conversation with architect David Gale about holistically conceived sustainability.
Mr. Gale, you are a pioneer in ecological design. What do you think architects can and should do to advance sustainable building concepts?
David Gale: Gale & Snowden Architects has been at the forefront of healthy ecological design since 1992. We are multi-disciplinary and adopt a collaborative approach. Architects can do little on their own. We all need to live, think and design in ways that regenerate our environment. People are part of nature, and by understanding and working with nature and natural systems, we can achieve this goal.
Your stated mission is to change the world for the better. How can that be achieved through architecture or design?
Architecture on its own cannot achieve the change that is required and in fact looking at things in isolation is part of the problem. Understanding the science of how the natural world works gives us the tools to produce elegant and efficient design solutions and, by deploying rigorous physics and biology to create buildings and integrated landscapes that need little energy and enhance our health and nourish us, whilst improving the environment and supporting our communities.
"Understanding the science of how the natural world works gives us the tools to produce elegant and efficient design solutions and to create buildings and integrated landscapes that need little energy and enhance our health and nourish us."
- Architect David Gale.
Seaton Beach is the UK’s first Passive House Plus. Why didn’t you settle for the simple Passivhaus standard?
The climate and environment emergency is such that we need urgently to do whatever we can to reduce the negative impact of humans on our world. The Passivhaus Plus standard recognizes the generation of renewable energy on site to provide enough energy to operate the building on average throughout the year.
In the Seaton Beach project, you placed great emphasis on a fabric first approach. What does that mean and what are the benefits?
A fabric first approach to building design involves optimising the building envelope including its components, materials, form, and orientation before considering active mechanical or electrical systems. By adopting a fabric first approach to designing buildings it is possible to greatly reduce the need for energy use in the first place.
Furthermore, capital and operational costs can be reduced, energy efficiency improved and carbon emissions minimised. It can also create a more comfortable internal environment and help to protect the fabric of the building.
What considerations did you make when choosing materials? What aspects are important to you in this regard?
Gale & Snowden follow the Building Biology Institute IBN checklist for building materials when considering materials for projects. This includes an assessment of materials and components and their composition. We also consider ethical criteria in relation to how the production of the material has affected people and communities during extraction, manufacture and transportation to site.
So why did you choose brick?
We have chosen Monolithic Porotherm blocks because they have scored highly on the checklist. Some reasons for this are, for example, the naturalness, sustainability as well as the good thermal and moisture buffering properties of the building material. In addition, it is non-toxic, odorless and non-combustible. Bricks are also sustainable in the long term, as they can be crushed into inert natural material and thus easily recycled. Finally, the price-performance ratio is reasonable.
Apart from the outstanding technical features of the building, we also need to talk about the special design.
The design of Seaton Beach at RIBA Stage 0-3 was by Clifton Emery design. The design rationale seeks to take its inspiration from the surrounding landscape as well as to maximise the residents’ relationship with the beach and wider sea views. Cantilevered balconies adopt a wave form aesthetic on the south façade which along with the full height glazing creates a sinuous organic elevation.
You have an inter-disciplinary, integrated approach when it comes to planning and design. How does the balance between function and aesthetics work?
As in nature, in ecological design they are one and the same.
Facts & Figures
Project name: Seaton Beach, Devon, United Kingdom
Architecture Gale & Snowden Architects & Engineers