Passivhaus Affiliate

Climate Action in Camden

London’s first Climate Action Week saw an afternoon of tours around Camden Council's Agar Grove - and two prestigious prizes for the scheme, recognising its radical approach to community regeneration and social and environmental sustainability.

First developed in the 1960s, Agar Grove Estate is set to be almost completely rebuilt over the next few years, with only the 148-unit Lulworth Tower to be retained and retrofitted, and all of the 345 new-build homes aiming for Passivhaus certification. Phase 1a, the first block of 38 homes and the first step on the journey to the scheme's becoming the UK's largest residential Passivhaus development, was certified in May 2018. Our tour took in the completed block from the outside, with detailed exposition by key members of the teams involved in bringing the project forward so far.

The day after welcoming us to the estate, the team from Camden had a date at the New London Architecture Awards ceremony – where Agar Grove was declared both the Overall Winner and the winner of the Sustainability Prize. These awards are now added to its previous accolades, the Mayor’s Award for Good Growth and the Mayor’s Award for Sustainable and Environmental Planning.

Agar Grove site visit 1 July 2019


The tour opened with presentations by Michelle Christensen, Senior Development Manager at Camden Council, and James Woodward, Architect and Passivhaus Deigner at Hawkins\Brown, giving us an overview of the journey to this stage and the choice of Passivhaus for such a major estate redevelopment project. James explained how the contextual demands of this kind of scheme can mean a compromise needs to be struck with Passivhaus ideals. With estates like Agar Grove, connecting back into the surrounding streets and making the sequence and hierarchy of spaces clear to the passer-by are arguably more important than the ideal orientation for solar purposes. 


A key aspect of this scheme is the social sustainability, with the single phase decant, intensive and timely consultation lead to meaningful changes in the brief. Getting this right gives the best chance that we won’t be doing the same thing with these types of estate in another 40 years time

James Woodward, Architect and Certified Passivhaus Designer, Hawkins\Brown

Plants and pipes

Sally Godber of PHT Patron member WARM, Passivhaus Certifiers on the project, explained the careful and detailed design that went into resolving the particular challenges of achieving the standard on a building of this scale, including the management of services. Bigger buildings make it possible to centralise services, and at Agar Grove the MVHR is located in two plants on the roof, which streamlines maintenance processes for Camden Council’s team. But this choice shifts the challenge to a different place - distribution losses through the services installation become a key factor, both in terms of energy loss, and avoiding a building that is heated by the domestic hot water system, which could heighten the risk of overheating in summer. 


One of the benefits of Passivhaus is around quality, and … this has been delivered on 1A by an initial set-up that embedded Passivhaus in the brief, positive engagement from the design team, the contractor rising to the challenge with support from their team (including Architype), and the presence of a independent certifier in Warm.

Gwilym Still, Passivhaus Consultant, Principal Engineer, Partner, Max Fordham LLP

Key team

Client: Camden Council

Architect (lead design): Hawkins\Brown

Architect (Passivhaus and delivery): Architype

Contractor: Hill

Services and Passivhaus consultant: Max Fordham

Certifier: WARM


Lovely to live in

Ann-Marie Fallon presented the post-occupation evaluation findings made by PHT Patron member Architype, following 12 months of monitoring after construction, to conclude the tour. The south-facing balconies, overlooking a shared secure play area, have already proved a highly valued feature to the residents. In their first summer, residents reported frequently opening their doors onto the terraces, not so much to mitigate any overheating (even during the heatwave) but to enjoy their outdoor ‘living room’. 

Agar Grove interior (c) Camden Council / Tim Crocker

Agar Grove interior | photo © Camden Council / Tim Crocker

Over the winter period, an indicative 6-month monitoring analysis showed a steady average temperature of 22 degrees. In the summer, some occupants reported some discomfort during the peak of the heatwave, but a cool 20 degrees internally could not be expected in those temperatures - very few buildings without cooling could have stayed cool in London over those days. This highlights the importance of designing for adaptable climates in the future, and in their work on St Loyes Care Home for Exeter City Council, Architype have included services and shading building interventions for 2050 and 2080 probalistic climate scenarios. 


Building progress

On the other side of one of the estate’s new streets, we saw phase 1b well underway. The main structure is up, and the under-ground floor slab details are already signed off and complete for certification purposes. Although this is the first Passivhaus project for main contractor, Hill, a benefit of the phased development has led to lessons learnt from the 1st phase being carried forward to improve the subsequent phases. Ann-Marie explained to us the need for forward planning, with a staged sign-off process now being implemented for all phases of the scheme.

The most testing aspect of Phase 1b is the far more complex set of detailing around various design intents: recessed balconies, dormers which move in and out of the thermal envelope, non-optimised orientation, etc... Whilst great knowledge has been learned on 1A by the contractor, Passivhaus still can trip you up if you get too confident.

Ann-Marie Fallon, Associate and CEPH Designer, Architype

Agar Grove phase 1b under construction

Phase 1b under construction 

Once all phases are complete, Agar Grove will become the UK's largest residential Passivhaus development, with 345 homes to be certified to the standard. it is hoped that this flagship scheme will prove the relevance of Passivhaus in the UK, and its viability in volume housebuilding. Learn more at this year’s UK Passivhaus Conference: Mainstreaming Passivhaus by 2030which will explore how to rapidly industrialise the Passivhaus standard to have a meaningful impact on achieving zero carbon targets. 

Join us in Manchester on Tuesday 29 October to learn more. Discounts are available for those working in Local Authority and Housing Associations. 

UKPHC19 | Mainstreaming Passivhaus by 2030 | Manchester, 29 October

All images © Passivhaus Trust unless otherwise stated


Further information

PHT Projects Gallery: Agar Grove Phase 1A

Previous PHT story: Agar Grove wins two London Planning Awards - 4 February 2019

Previous PHT story: Students visit Agar Grove Passivhaus Estate Regeneration - 20 May 2017

UK Passivhaus Conference 2019 - Mainstreaming Passivhaus by 2030


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7th July 2019

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