Spot the Passivhaus

©. Ryall Sheridan

Bill Ryall buries an artists' residence in a meadow

It's cold and often windy in Vermont, and designing to the tough Passivhaus standard is hard in such conditions. That's one of the reasons architect Bill Ryall of Ryall Sheridan Architects nestled this artists' residence into a hillside. It's a place for artists to say while working in a nearby recording studio. "Both conceptually and literally, the building is intended to be almost seamlessly part of the natural landscape, hardly visible as a "building" per se, both in summer and winter."

summer view

© Ryall Sheridan

By sheltering the building under ground, the insulation levels of the north facing walls are protected from the full brunt of the Vermont winter extremes and northwest prevailing wined, while strengthening the architecture of the design.... The existing meadow's grasses continue onto the roof, literally naturalizing the building further into the hillside, almost disguising its very existence, while reducing summer heat gain and helping to control storm water runoff.

view from woods

© Ryall Sheridan

Passivhaus buildings used to be pitched with the definition (still up on the International Passive House site):

No matter the climate or geographical region, Passive Houses stay at a comfortable temperature year round with minimal energy inputs. Such buildings are heated “passively”, making efficient use of the sun, internal heat sources and heat recovery so that conventional heating systems are rendered unnecessary throughout even the coldest of winters.
kitchen studio

© Ryall Sheridan

This is not quite true; most Passive House buildings do have active heating or cooling systems, but they are often very small. These days many have little more than an air source heat pump, which is what Ryall's team specified for the studio. The client wasn't so sure and insisted on a gas boiler as a backup to the heat pumps; "despite some cold spells of -25°C (-12°F) the backup gas boiler never turned on. This proves the high efficiency of the building envelope."

view from southwest

© Ryall Sheridan

See more technical data on the Passivhaus database.

Ilana Judah, Lloyd Alter, Bill Ryall

Ilana Judah, Lloyd Alter, Bill Ryall/CC BY 2.0

There were a lot of very tall people at the 21st International Passivhaus conference. Bill Ryall is one of them, which is why I am standing on a chair.