Park Avenue Green is the largest Passive House building in North America

But Passive House is so expensive! How can you build housing for the homeless and low income families this way?

For years it has been said that Passive House is too expensive, all that extra insulation and fancy windows. And for low income housing in New York City? Fuggetaboutit.

Then we have Park Avenue Green, the largest residential building built to the Passive House US (PHIUS) standard in the USA. It has 154 units of low-income housing (including 46 for formerly homeless people). It's designed by Curtis + Ginsberg Architects, who write:

The development provides much needed low-income housing to the Melrose neighborhood while incorporating state-of-the-art building technology and creating a community of environmentally comfortable homes. A gallery and affordable artist studios are located at the ground floor for the not-for-profit Spaceworks, providing spaces for local artists visible from the street.

Cogeneration equipment© Park Avenue Green via Bright Power

Bright Power did the PHIUS certification and installed a 34 kilowatt solar photovoltaic system. The building also cogeneration and the usual Passive house high levels of insulation and energy efficiency. They note:

In order to obtain this level of high performance and keep construction costs down, Bright Power had to be creative. Beyond downsizing oversized equipment and relocating systems, Bright Power worked with Passive House Institute U.S. (PHIUS) to source specific project components from local manufacturers—reducing first costs for Omni, while still meeting strict performance requirements.

From the press release:

“Park Avenue Green is an example of sustainable, affordable building, and it’s great to have Bright Power and our partners at Omni New York LLC and Curtis + Ginsberg Architects recognized by PHIUS,” said Tyler Davis, Manager of New Construction at Bright Power. “Park Avenue Green demonstrates that you can build energy efficient, multifamily affordable housing building in New York City, and we’ll continue to apply the lessons we learned from this project into our future work.”

Park Avenue Green© Park Avenue Green via Bright Power

At first I thought that it wasn't the prettiest Passive House building that we have shown on TreeHugger, but I quickly smacked myself, having written many times in praise of the dumb box, where I quoted architect Mike Eliason, who was describing housing in Germany, and noted that “‘dumb boxes’ are the least expensive, the least carbon intensive, the most resilient, and have some of the lowest operational costs compared to a more varied and intensive massing.” I asked Mike what he thought of this and he responded: “looks like Berlin!”

I have also written that It's time for a revolution in the way we look at buildings, quoting Nick Grant: “Passivhaus advocates are keen to point out that Passivhaus doesn't need to be a box; but if we are serious about delivering Passivhaus for all, we need to think inside the box and stop apologizing for houses that look like houses.” — or, in this case, like an apartment building. I also quoted Jo Richardson and David Coley about how we need “…a revolution in what architects currently consider acceptable for how houses should look and feel. That’s a tall order – but decarbonising each component of society will take nothing short of a revolution.”

Passivhaus only works if the right design decisions are made from day one. If an architect starts by drawing a large window for example, then the energy loss from it might well be so great that any amount of insulation elsewhere can’t offset it. Architects don’t often welcome this intrusion of physics into the world of art. In other industries – high-performance car design for example – the need to work with physics to reduce drag also affords an attractive, low and sleek look.

Which is why all cars look like jellybeans, almost identical. We have come to accept that at least for cars, the engineering and physics should drive the design.

Finally, it may just be that they sent me lousy photos; it looks much better on the Curtis and Ginsberg site where they corrected for perspective.

Ultimately, what we need in North America is a lot of affordable housing built to the highest efficiency standards, like Passive House. They may not all get on the cover of architectural magazines, but that doesn't matter any more. This building proves that you can build lots of affordable housing to the highest standard of efficiency and comfort, which is the Passive House standard. And that's news in my book.

But Passive House is so expensive! How can you build housing for the homeless and low income families this way?