ARCHITECTS OF THE MONTH EN ENKI MAGAZINE
La revista inglesa Enki. The home of Design & Architecture for modern living, incluye una entrevista a Slow Studio como Arquitecto del Mes en su número especial sobre sostenibilidad volumen 44 titulado Conscious Living, de abril de 2022.
Para obtener el último número de Enki: Sustainable Issue
Creative of the month. Climate positive
In a new era of architecture where zero-energy building is becoming a box ticking exercise, discover a studio that is determined to go over and above to make a difference.
“ARCHITECTURE MUST BE CONSCIOUS OF THE ENVIRONMENT
IN WHICH IT IS INSERTED AND GENERATE ZERO IMPACT”
“The House in Monte el Pardo embraces a strategy of bioclimatic design and indoor health and wellbeing. We had to find a way to ensure good lighting, sunlight and ventilation in all the rooms, which are located on the south facade where cross ventilation is enhanced by two courtyards. The south courtyard is key to ensuring natural ventilation without incurring energy losses. The double-height courtyard has a glazed roof that can be opened or closed depending on the season. In winter, it is closed, creating a greenhouse effect that preheats the natural air. As it is double-height, we take into account that the stratification of the hot air will move to the upper part, from where we introduce it, into the house by means of CO2 sensors that activate fans located in the bathrooms. These absorb the air and renew it when the house is occupied”
“THROUGH ARCHITECTURE IT IS POSSIBLE TO SIGNIFICANTLY IMPROVE
PEOPLE’S WELLBEING AND CONTRIBUTE TO A BETTER FUTURE”
Amid an impassioned plight for sustainable architecture, Slow Studio place its clients at the heart of its work, “improving the quality of life of people is the main objective of our study”
“WE SPEND ON AVERAGE 90% OF OUR TIME INDOORS BUT MOST OF OUR
BUILDINGS DO NOT ENSURE A GOOD INDOOR ENVIRONMENT”
Proof that time has little bearing on aptitude, it wasn’t long ago that Jade Serra and Víctor Vergés, the founding partners of Slow Studio and leading figureheads in sustainable building, took a fervent interest in efficient and healthy architecture.
Enrolling at the Instituto Español de Bioconstrucción, the duo trained with the very best bioconstruction experts and discovered a world of design that looked a little more green and a lot more hopeful than the one they were accustomed to. Noting this period as a “turning point” in their careers, Jade and Victor took the opportunity to learn with gusto. The more information they soaked up, the more excited they became as the strategies that were thrown at them suddenly unlocked a new realm of possibilities.
Yet what we found so humbling is that despite their obvious wealth of knowledge regarding low and zero impact design – their eloquence was in fact quite staggering considering some of the questions we posed – they’re quick to uphold that architecture is, in fact, just a learning process that never truly ends. And in the pursuit of a sustainable future for our planet, this is something we must all recognise. There’s no room for egos. The sooner we accept that the way forward is through educational collaboration, the sooner we start making a difference.
“Building communities with a zero ecological footprint involves this change of consciousness in which we move from competing to collaborating,” state Slow Studio matter-of-factly. Sitting in a league of their own with a portfolio bursting at the seams with sustainable ingenuity, we can’t wait for you to read on and discover all they had to say to us.
“DESIGNING A ZERO-ENERGY HOUSE SHOULD BE
A GIVEN FOR ANY NEW BUILDING PROJECT”
What does ‘slow’ mean to you?
‘Slow’ is our approach to life and architecture. Our values influence the way we live, eat, travel, raise our children and work. We are passionate about healthy and conscious lifestyles that put the environment and wellbeing as a priority.
What are your greatest influences?
When we became interested in radically efficient and healthy architecture we trained with the team of Petra Jebels and Maria Fígols at the Instituto Español de Bioconstrucción, in the branch of the IBN – Institut für Baubiologie in Germany. There we spent two years working intensively on issues of natural and emission-free materials, indoor environment health and zero impact building. Later on, our interest in carrying out zero-energy buildings led us to meet Societat Orgánica, one of the most prominent energy efficiency consultancies in Spain, and with whom we began to work on the bioclimatic strategy of each of our projects. With them we learned that everything we had in our heads and had intuited in each project at the level of bioclimatic and passive design, had to go through complex energy demand calculation programs to make decisions based on specific data, and that was translated into budget variations. Working with other high-level teams creates an opportunity to learn from each other in order to improve and achieve conscious and sustainable architecture.
Describe a typical Slow Studio space?
A Slow Studio space is an exceptional environment that requires innovative architectural strategies that we are always looking to improve. It aims for zero energy consumption, reducing its energy demand to operate only with renewable sources. It’s efficient and uses bioclimatic architecture strategies to achieve a comfortable environment without energy consumption. It’s a healthy space, which applies design criteria to ensure hygrothermal comfort and minimise electromagnetic pollution. Our spaces promote community and interaction, are toxic-free, follow local sourcing policies and are renewable by applying the principles of circular economy to ensure the permanence of the build. We want our work to integrate and adapt to its environment, respecting its natural surroundings by making choices that minimise the impact on ecosystems.
How do you consider sustainability?
European regulations require that from 2020 all new buildings must have zero energy consumption, but the impact on the planet and on people is still not yet being discussed. The fact is that we can build an energy efficient building, but if it is constructed with concrete and steel (materials with a high ecological impact), we use a non-breathable petroleum-based insulation with a high ecological footprint, we use finishes with toxic components that are emitted into the indoor environment and we end up installing a heating and cooling system that will dry out the environment…then we may be complying with energy efficiency regulations, but we’re not taking into account either the ecological impact or the impact on its inhabitants. That’s why it is important to understand the implications of a building throughout its life cycle.
What is most challenging about creating a sustainable building?
As designers, it is a constant struggle to strike a balance between project viability and the rigorous application of solutions that prioritise ecology and health with zero impact. There is still a long way to go and probably one of the paths is to call for more conscious regulations that take into account the impact of building materials on the environment and people.
What are your favoured materials or methods of construction?
We like to work with natural, unprocessed and locally sourced materials with a small ecological footprint. We prioritise locally sourced wood or brick structures and
we have also worked with blocks of earth compacted with lime. When you work with noble materials such as earth or wood, leaving them exposed is a luxury that not only saves construction costs, but also contributes to improving the indoor environmental quality.
Is a zero carbon building possible?
When a group of people come together to build or renovate a complex and
they share energy resources, water management, waste management and food production, and when we can combine living and working programmes, then zero carbon architecture will become a reality. There are some examples of exceptional small communities of ecological co-housing that are self-sufficient and share management and maintenance tasks, combine private work, unify travel and joint purchases. We must all rethink the way in which we live and build and without doubt, the new dynamic has to be based on working together. Undoubtedly, building communities with a zero ecological footprint involves this change of consciousness in which we move from competing to collaborating.
Which technologies support your work?
Thanks to our in-house Slow Research team, our practice brings together the principles of passive architecture with advanced technological solutions. To this end, we work closely with the best efficiency experts in Spain in the fields of energy demand calculation, optimisation of installations, sizing of structures and management of water and energy self-sufficiency. Once we have designed a house based on passive criteria, we cover the remaining demand through active systems that consume energy. The technologies that support our work prioritise the use of renewable energy, such as thermodynamic or photovoltaic solar panels to generate hot water or electricity. If we want to be able to generate electricity to disconnect from the grid, photovoltaic panels or wind turbines are currently the only solutions. A non-renewable option that we also use in the study is biomass, which despite not being free of CO2 emissions during its combustion process, is considered a zero-emission energy because the tree has previously absorbed the same amount of CO2 during its growth process.
What is next for your studio?
We are comfortable with the volume of projects we manage at the moment, which allows us to apply Slow values to our daily lives and maintain a good work-life balance. We believe that not all growth should be in volume or revenue, but that we can grow in quality and innovation. The new Research section is an important commitment that aims to openly share the technical knowledge we acquire to contribute to better architecture.