No Sweat in This Shop: Garment Factory Is Renovated to Passivhaus Standard

©. Ganidu Balasuriya via V2COM

Jordan Parnass Digital Architecture has designed a revolutionary building for an industry that needs a revolution.

Most of the Passivhaus* designs we show are in cool climates, because that's where they were invented, and it is a great way to keep heat in. But it's also a great way to keep heat out. Also, the name Passivhaus makes one think that they are mostly houses, but there are more and more office buildings and now, even factories. Finally, most Passivhaus projects are new buildings, but it can also be applied to renovations.

Star Innovation Center end of building

© Ganidu Balasuriya via V2COMAnd then there is the Star Innovation Center near Colombo, Sri Lanka. It is all of the above, a Passivhaus industrial renovation in a very hot climate. No sweating in here, it is "a green economic catalyst and model for future sweatshop-free commercial buildings." According to the press release on

Star Innovation Center roof

© Ganidu Balasuriya via V2COM

The Star Innovation Center is a pioneer in applying Passive House technology to a tropical monsoon climate, which features steady warm temperatures year-round but extremely high relative humidity....Careful design and engineering of the building systems and enclosure ensures that workers enjoy year-round comfort in a workspace that provides abundant natural light, low humidity, filtered fresh air, and maintains temperatures near a constant 24 °C (77 °F).
Section through building

© Jordan Parnass Digital Architecture

Technically, it is pretty much like every other Passivhaus building in hot or cold climates: lots of insulation, careful sealing to make an airtight thermal envelope, minimal thermal breaks. Inside, a big dehumidification system and heat exchanger. The building is certified to the Enerphit standard for renovations, which is not quite as tough as the full Passivhaus drill. Their consultant, Steven Winter Associates, flew over with their equipment. The building failed the first blower test, but 19 leaks were found and sealed. Michael O’Donnell writes in a blog post:

Because EnerPHit requires that before and after airflow measurements are taken of leakage areas to show the improvement, SWA documented the air leakage reductions at these conditions. On average, air leakage was reduced anywhere from 85-99% at these locations! After extending the trip by a day to allow for additional air sealing, the test was run on Tuesday evening and achieved a passing result of 0.78 ACH50!
Blower test

© Stephen Winter Associates

This is why I have no love for those projects that are "designed to Passive House principles" but are not tested or certified. Passivhaus is a standard that requires compliance and testing. Here, they went to the expense of flying a team of consultants and all their equipment over to Sri Lanka and it probably will pay for itself through the energy savings.

Thorough testing of the airtightness and remote monitoring of the ongoing energy usage provide quantitative confirmation of the building performance, achieving projected operational cost savings for the client and vastly upgraded workplace environmental standards for the employees.

The fashion industry needs a revolution, and this is part of it.

This is perhaps the real significance of the project. TreeHugger has been discussing the issue of sweatshop conditions forever. TreeHugger Katherine has written about the true cost of our cheap clothing:

You had the entire fashion industry constructed on practices of complete disregard for human life. You had these big name brands operating in places that were unfit to even walk through the door.
Star Innovation Center interior

© Ganidu Balasuriya via V2COM

A lot of people come to Passivhaus for the energy savings (and this building will cut consumption by 75 percent compared to conventional construction) but as we keep saying, the three most important things about Passivhaus are comfort, comfort and comfort. The most important thing about this building, as far as this TreeHugger is concerned, is what it does for the working conditions of the people inside. They should have a special label or even a T-Shirt: Made in a sweat-free Passivhaus factory - a bit niche, but I would buy it.

By choosing to renovate an obsolete building to Passive House standards, the project dramatically reduces the waste, carbon emissions and fossil fuels typically required for demolition and new construction, and promotes the client’s commitment to maintain high standards in social, environmental, ethical and safety compliance.
Working inside Star Innovation

© Ganidu Balasuriya via V2COM

It is also a great demonstration that there is more to architecture than just making pretty buildings. "By promoting the project’s goals and inspiring the local building industry JPDA has sought to establish a clear path to both reducing global carbon emissions and putting an end to worker 'sweatshop' conditions."

TreeHugger Katherine has written that a revolution within the fashion industry is desperately needed.

Something has to change because the current way in which fashion is made, sold, and discarded is unsustainable. From an ethical standpoint, there are 36 million people living in modern slavery today, many of whom are working for major Western fashion brands. Garment manufacturing is the world’s third largest industrial industry (following automotive and electronics manufacturing), employing at least 60 million people directly and likely more than double that indirectly dependent on the sector (at least 80 million in China alone).

The scale of the problem is vast; the Star Innovation Center by Jordan Parnass Digital Architecture may be a model for the revolution, and a demonstration that Passivhaus can change peoples' lives.

*Jordan Parnass uses Passive House, I use Passivhaus. I apologize for the inconsistency and explain why here.

Star Innovation Center exterior stair

© Ganidu Balasuriya via V2COM