Community center in Voralburg, Austria is definitely BBB (Boxy But Beautiful)

exterior view with mountains
© Hanspeter Schless via Cukrowicz Nachbaur Architekten

The Passivhaus, or Passive House standard is tough to meet, but comes down to a couple of basic principles: A lot of insulation, careful detailing and really good windows. Every time you do a corner or a jog in the design, it is another possible point of heat loss, so a lot of Passivhaus designs tend to be boxy. Architects often have trouble with boxy and often those Passivhaus designs are not just not very visually interesting or attractive. This doesn't have to be the case; home designers have done simple and boxy for hundreds of years and the results are often beautiful. So I laughed when I learned a new term in a tweet from Passivhaus expert Bronwyn Barry:

I went off to find more information about this project, which hits every TreeHugger button and is most definitely BBB. (Boxy But Beautiful)

It's Passivhaus

The Community Center in St. Gerold was designed by Cukrowicz Nachbaur Architekten to Passivhaus standard and completed in 2008, when most of these photos were taken. It is in Austria's Walser Valley, a UNESCO biosphere reserve. It includes a kindergarten, village shop and multipurpose rooms and is heated and cooled by a ground source heat pump, with waste heat from the cooling cycle is used in the shop.

It's wood

This four storey building has an interior layer of structural load-bearing timber panels made from locally harvested spruce, (I cannot tell if it is my favorite Cross Laminated Timber; the architect describes it as " massive wood") then 12 inches of cellulose insulation, then timber cladding. According to the Passivhaus database, the whole building has a heating demand of 14 kWh per square meter per year.

It's prefabricated

According to Detail, prefabrication saved time and costs.

It's BBB.

That is a very useful term, Boxy But Beautiful. It's tough to do. Passivhaus puts real limitations on the size and placement of windows; they are very expensive and glass area is limited because of heat loss considerations. The architect's toolbox is limited to scale, proportion and detail.

Interestingly the architects chose to leave the wood unfinished.The St. Gerold website says "The timber used has not been treated and has been left to age which adds to the beauty of the building. The finishes of the building are neat. The joints and fixtures are clean and simple. The timber is low maintenance, and cleaned only once a year."

I am not sure it has aged gracefully to grey in the five years since it was finished. I rather liked it better when it was new. UPDATE: Architect Juraj Mikurcik shows me a photo set of buildings in the area and seen in context, the weathered look makes a lot more sense and looks a lot more beautiful.

Community center in Voralburg, Austria is definitely BBB (Boxy But Beautiful)
You can build amazing things out of wood, and they can meet the tough passivhaus standard in cold climates

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