Snøhetta will change this old edifice at Harvard into powerful energy-efficient building

A green building research center in Harvard has enlisted Snøhetta to turn its headquarters into a testing site for technology that will facilitate the modernization of older homes.

Using his modest headquarters as a guinea pig, the Harvard Center for Green Buildings and Cities (CGBC) at the GSD will upgrade his home on campus. Designed by Snøhetta, the HouseZero project renews CGBC's 1924 house to operate without a HVAC system, with no daylighting and zero carbon emissions, among other efficiencies.

The project was created by Ali Malkawi, professor of architectural technology at the GSD and founding director of the center.

"In the past, this level of efficiency could only be achieved in new construction," Malkawi said in a press release. "We want to demonstrate what is possible, show how this can be replicated almost everywhere and solve one of the world's biggest energy problems - existing inefficient buildings."

Diagram Axon (Courtesy Snøhetta)

In the United States, 113.6 million households use about ten percent of the nation's energy. Although there are plenty of new buildings that are not net-zero, there are not many practitioners working to bring older buildings, especially old houses, to this standard.

For CGBC, which was founded in 2014 to promote high-performance construction techniques through design, HouseZero is a major test project. Instead of considering the house as a sealed box, Snøhetta will create an envelope that heats passively and cools. The HVAC system will be replaced by a thermal mass, while a ground source heat pump will provide additional energy to regulate temperatures in the hottest and coldest months. Coated with white cedar shingles, HomeZero sports ash and interior finishes of birch, natural clay plaster and brick and granite recovered, all high-performance materials available locally.

The building components are equipped with sensors so that the structure can adapt to thermal comfort throughout the day while gathering data for future renovations. An indoor laboratory will be connected to the energy exchange system so that architects and researchers can exchange and test new facades and materials in order to further optimize the performance of the structure.

The conceptual design of the project was developed in collaboration with the Center and with Snøhetta, who will be the main architect, interior and landscape architect. (The US branch of the Norwegian construction company Skanska also works in the house.)

Although it can probably be LEED super-platinum, the creators of HouseZero do not propose to create existing certifications. According to the press release, the team "wants to demonstrate an entirely new paradigm for ultra-efficient, localized and focused on reducing energy demand, with secondary energy production at that."

Construction is expected to take between seven and nine months.