Twin Peaks Line, West Portal Station Muni Facilities Building Foundation and Floor Plans (1976)

A zero-carbon home which could become a template for larger-scale production in the UK has been unveiled.

The building demonstrates how contemporary design can celebrate local materials and integrate new technologies to produce a highly sustainable building that sits lightly on the Earth.

Richard Hawkes

The four-bedroom property, called "Crossway" and situated near Staplehurst, uses a technique borrowed from 600-year-old medieval architecture to provide what may prove a blueprint for energy-efficient living in the future.

The house is one of the first zero-carbon homes in the UK. It was designed by architect Richard Hawkes, who will be its first occupant, with structural design by Michael Ramage, who is based at the University of Cambridge Department of Architecture, and Philip Cooper, who teaches in the department and is a Director of ScottWilson Engineers. It will feature on the Channel 4 Programme Grand Designs on February 18th.

More than a quarter (27%) of UK carbon emissions come from households, adding considerably to global warming. Only a handful of homes are zero-carbon, however, and many designs are too expensive to merit mass production. The UK government has a target for all new homes to be zero-carbon by 2016.

While more expensive than some conventional homes at the moment, the designers of Crossway believe that its design and technology could ultimately be a prototype for cheaper energy-efficient homes.

"The design is cost-effective in that the home is relatively simple to build and, once you know what you're doing, it's quick," Michael Ramage said. "Many of the costs come from the new technology it uses for energy storage and generation. If those become more widely available, making a similar house cheaply in much larger quantities may be possible."

The arched building is essentially one large vault spanning 20metres, covered on the outside with earth and plants to camouflage it and help it blend in with the rural surroundings.

Its basic design is adapted from an historic Mediterranean technique called "timbrel vaulting", which uses thin bricks to create lightweight and durable buildings. The style is a traditional form in Catalonia and was popularised by architects from the region during the 19th century, although the earliest known example comes from Valencia and dates back to 1382.

The vaulting gives the house plenty of structural strength but obviates the need for embodied-energy intensive materials such as reinforced concrete. It also provides it with great thermal mass, enabling the building to retain heat, absorb fluctuations in temperature and reducing the need for central heating or cooling systems.

Any necessary heating comes from the solar energy through the UK's first example of a combination photovoltaic and thermal heating system, which is more efficient than other solar technology. An 11kW biomass boiler has also been installed to provide energy and electricity if the sun does not appear for days on end. The house is insulated throughout using recycled newspaper.

Where possible, the designers have used locally-sourced materials, such as "Kent peg" roof tiles, which have been made in the area for centuries. The triple-glazed windows, however, were imported from Austria as they are not on the market in the UK. No windows are placed at elevations that can be seen from a distance to preserve the rural darkness of the surrounding area.

"The building demonstrates how contemporary design can celebrate local materials and integrate new technologies to produce a highly sustainable building that sits lightly on the Earth," Richard Hawkes added.

Crossway will appear on Grand Designs on Channel 4 at 9pm on February 18th.

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