Passivhaus Affiliate

Harris Academy Sutton: beacon for high-performance school design

Completed in September 2019, Harris Academy in Sutton is blazing the trail for future educational facilities.

Harris Academy. Image credit: Jack Hobhouse

A triumphant collaboration between PHT Patrons Architype & Willmott Dixon, and the whole project team, the award-winning Harris Academy is an exemplar Passivhaus scheme that provides an optimal learning environment for 1275 students between the ages of 11-18. Fulfilling the One Planet Sutton vision, the school is also part of Sutton’s masterplan for the London Cancer Hub, offering a healthy, comfortable, and energy-efficient school for aspiring scientists of the future.


Key Stats

  • Occupancy: 1275 pupils & 95 staff

  • Completion date: July 2019

  • Construction: Concrete frame & CLT

  • GIA: 10,600 m2

  • Cost: £40,000,000

Harris Academy. Image credit: Jack Hobhouse


Designing a school for pupils in the critical stages of their educational development, meant providing an environment which facilitated the highest levels health and wellbeing. Passivhaus design provides optimum levels of indoor air quality and thermal comfort, which is particularly important in schools and common facilities where a constant fluctuation of activity and building occupation is common.

Architype's previous monitoring of schools deemed that Passivhaus was the most appropriate solution to ensure comfortable and fresh classrooms, improving concentration levels and overall wellbeing for both pupils and staff.  An effective & highly-efficient ventilation strategy adopting mechanical ventilation with heat recovery (MVHR) result in the project acheiving an impressive 0.30 air changes per hour.


Harris Academy. Image credit: Jack Hobhouse


Adopting Passivhaus also enables the school to save approximately 80% on heating bills, which significantly reduces the school’s environmental impact. Aiming for Passivhaus certification, the school will undergo independent quality assurance to ensure that the scheme will perform as predicted throughout it’s lifecycle for generations to come.


Harris Academy. Image credit: Jack Hobhouse

Harris Academy. Image credit: Jack Hobhouse


Construction & materials

Originally receiving planning rejections due to scale and privacy, the design follows a clever 3 storey scheme which comprises of a concrete frame half sunk into the ground, as to not impose on the surrounding area. The school is also optimally orientated to allow natural light to fill the classrooms, with triple glazed windows set into the Douglas fir timber and brick and copper cladding.

Harris Academy. Image credit: Jack Hobhouse


For the upper storeys, Cross Laminated Timber was specified for its non-toxic and structural qualities, creating large multi-functional rooms which can be used adapted to provide different learning environments. The CLT roof is made up of meticulously abutted insulation boards to increase airtightness levels.

Due to the size of the scheme, the design was granted an allowable energy demand slightly higher than the typical 120kwh/m2/a. Passivhaus target, to compensate for large anticipated heat loads from multiple devices and occupants.


Harris Academy construction. Image credit: Willmott Dixon


The golden rule: 'one-team ethos'

The Harris Academy scheme encountered many challenges and complexities which meant many lessons were learned across all project stages. Architype described the key to success as "one-team ethos". The main lessons learned included:

  • Ensuring a contractual agreement is drawn up that includes involvement of the contractor and their supply chain at early stages to help inform the detailed design.

  • Ensuring the design is completed as much as possible before construction commences.

  • Ensure details are clear for every junction/ penetration for airtightness. For this scheme a colour coded 3D drawings with accompanying notes were used.

  • Confirming any value engineering issues and optimise construction sequencing to minimise changeover of trades.

  • For projects with high primary energy demand, ensure appliances are as low energy as possible by ensuring coordination between MEP, FF&E and end-user client.


A key part of this was a Passivhaus-specific induction for the entire supply chain. Every person was made aware of the concept, why getting everything right was so important and why stringent quality control was essential.

Graham Thompson, Willmott Dixon


Key team

  • Client: London Borough of Sutton

  • Architect & Passivhaus DesignerPHT Patron Architype

  • Main ContractorPHT Patron Willmott Dixon

  • QS: Synergy

  • Planning Consultant: Lichfields

  • Structural Engineer: Price & Myers

  • Acoustic & M&E consultant: PHT member BDP

  • Landscape: Churchman Landscape Architects

  • Fire Consultant: Arup

  • Education Consultant: Lloyd Wilson Partnership

  • Passivhaus CertifierPHT Patron WARM 

Harris Academy construction. Image credit: Willmott Dixon


Architype led a committed design team that combined education and Passivhaus design expertise. This team continued successfully through the design development and construction stages, to deliver a very high performing building.

Adam Whiteley, Senior Project Manager, London Borough of Sutton


There is a growing array of Passivhaus Educational Buildings and next-level energy-efficieny architecture in the UK. Harris Academy is included in the new SDF Alliance Exemplars Library amongst several other Passivhaus projects. Demonstrating a holistic approach to sustainable building, the collection of case studies forms part of the mission to drive net-zero in construction in the UK.


Further information

Harris Academy Sutton

Previous PHT story: Passivhaus massivhaus: child's play at Sutton Secondary - 28 February 2019

Willmott Dixon: Harris Academy Sutton - The largest Passivhaus secondary school in the UK

Passivhaus Educational Buildings Case Studies

Passivhaus for Educational Buildings Campaign

PHT guidance: Qualiity Assurance for large & complex buildings

SDF Alliance Exemplars Library

6th October 2021

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