rg+p’s Pioneering Passivhaus Scheme

rg+p’s Heathcott Road development is the UK’s largest Passivhaus affordable housing schemes and one of its most ambitious.

Completed in 2017, the development includes 68 eco-homes, along with an adjacent permaculture farm. Once a disused and overgrown vacant 13.2-acre plot, the development has provided some much-needed affordable housing that suits a wide range of needs and is built to a high standard of energy-efficiency.

The Brief

An affordable community for all

rg+p’s mission for this project was to design a community of mixed affordable housing to accommodate families in a range of sizes. From one-bedroom apartments to four-bedroom houses, this project was intended from the start to meet the needs of the local community. To make sure the development would be suitable for a wide range of people, eight of the properties are wheelchair-accessible, and all homes are highly energy-efficient.

The 13.2 acres of land on which the development was built was previously an overgrown allotment plot which had been disused for some time. Along with rg+p, Leicester City council partnered with developer Westleigh, the social housing and care provider EMH Group, and the Saffron Lane Neighbourhood Council, to develop the site.

Sustainable living in Leicester

Another important aspect of the brief was the requirement to create a sustainable development that would do more than provide people with homes: it must also help create a community.

Next door to the development is a permaculture farm and community garden. The farm and garden are run by the Saffron Lane Neighbourhood Council, which relies in part on volunteer workers and funded work placements. As part of the community development initiative, residents of the new homes can grow their own vegetables and fruit and take cooking classes encouraging a more sustainable way of life and creating homes full of people with strong ties to the local community.

Westleigh’s involvement was integral to achieving Passivhaus certification. The build used Westleigh’s Westframe PassiPlus+ timber framing to achieve U-values as low as 0.1W/m2K, allowing the design to easily achieve certification for thermal bridging, airtightness, and thermal performance. With these excellent energy-efficiency ratings the homes are extremely affordable to run from year to year. The rg+p design team also took advantage of a south-facing aspect to improve the energy-efficiency of the homes: all living areas are south-facing, with increased glazing, to help distribute heat more effectively.

The average new-construction UK home costs around £735 a year to run. For homes in this development the figure is expected to be a stunningly low £13 per home.

The Passivhaus Scheme

How ARCHICAD Helped Make it Work

For rg+p, one of the most important parts of the project was the use of ARCHICAD, and what it enabled the design team to achieve. With ARCHICAD, the team could:

  • Easily share information at all stages of the project.
  • Deliver an initial project concept within weeks.
  • Speed up the design process, moving quickly from concept to models.
  • Work collaboratively with other teams involved in the project.

A faster, more direct design process

When a project includes multiple different home sizes and layouts, ARCHICAD makes short work of getting layouts developed and finalised.

According to lead architect Robert Grewcock, “ARCHICAD has a good library of components which helped us to develop initial design ideas very quickly. We were able to develop the initial site plan and house types within just a few weeks.” To do this, the team took every house type and layout and created a single master model, meaning they could then use the same master model as the basis for all subsequent visualisations. “Once we had agreed the initial concepts, we designed one house in full detail and then rolled out the concept to the other properties, increasing the level of detail as the project progressed. With the help of ARCHICAD, this was very straightforward to do.”

Easier, more direct communication and collaboration

The ability of ARCHICAD to facilitate collaboration was also immensely useful. For instance, the team used ARCHICAD to create highly detailed street views, which made it easy to bring developers and planners up to speed with the design concept. With ARCHICAD, rg+p quickly created a visualisation to take to client meetings on a laptop, which they could then mark-up following feedback. The visualisations were also very helpful during the public consultation and planning phase; consequently, achieving planning permission for the project was a very smooth process.

Thanks to ARCHICAD, rg+p could easily share IFC files directly with the Passivhaus consultant. The consultant was then able to mark up the drawings to make any necessary alterations and those alterations would then be immediately accessible by the rg+p design team.

ARCHICAD facilitated collaboration with Westleigh, too, as the ARCHICAD models stored the BIM data that Westleigh used to produce the timber-frame units. And with ARCHICAD it was a simple matter to share that data. “Once the designs were finalised, we exported the data that Westleigh needed to manufacture the timber frame units. Westleigh manufactured the bespoke timber panels which were made to the exact size for each property. The properties were quickly assembled on-site, insulated and sealed in an air-tight wrap, and finished with a brick and render outer skin.”

rg+p Plus ARCHICAD Equals an Award-winning Design

The Heathcott Road development is a success in more ways than one. Not just a success with new residents, but an architectural success too, as the recipient of multiple industry awards in 2017.

Heathcott Road has won in the Residential category at the RICS East Midlands Awards and took Project of the Year – Building Projects at the East Midlands Celebrating Construction Awards.

In making their decisions, the RICS judges note that, “This outstanding residential development encapsulates all that is good in modern site and space planning in terms of style as well as both community creation and internal, flexible design. All whilst achieving outstanding energy efficiency through its Passivhaus status and clever surface water management.”

In addition, the Heathcott Road development has also won the Structural Timber Awards Best Social Housing Project 2017 and the SHIFT Awards (Sustainable Homes Index for Tomorrow) Best New Build Project 2017.