\ HollandGreen in Absolutely Berkshire & Buckinghamshire

Fabric First in Absolutely Berkshire and Buckinghamshire Magazines.

Laira Piccinato, HollandGreen’s Head of Sustainability, is interviewed in the July 2023 issue of Absolutely Berkshire and Absolutely Buckinghamshire magazines, exploring the concept of “Fabric First” in building design. Her interview discusses the importance of prioritising the building’s fabric, also know as the envelope, to improve the home’s thermal performance and maximise its energy efficiency – both integral elements to sustainable architecture.

Q. What is fabric first?

A fabric first approach means designing the building – the materials and components from which it is made – to the highest standard possible before considering any electrical, mechanical or technological system integrations. By designing the fabric (sometimes referred to as the envelope of the building) to such a high standard of execution within the brief and budget, means we will be minimising the future energy consumption of the building.

Minimal ‘tech’ will be needed, and the tech that is employed will be designed to operate most efficiently. Our architects and technologists work holistically on the design of a new build home on maximising air tightness, minimizing solar gains in summer, ensuring very high levels of insulation, optimising natural ventilation, using thermal mass (the building’s capacity to absorb, store and release heat), and analysing the optimum orientation of the building in relation to the sun’s path and wind direction. Together these make a significant contribution to the efficacy of a fabric first approach, and subsequently the energy consumption of the home.

How can fabric first can impact wellbeing?

It’s not just a positive impact on minimising the home’s energy consumption. A building that is designed intelligently, with energy efficiency at the heart of its ethos, is easier for homeowners to operate. As occupants, they don’t need to rely on complex technology to deal with, for instance, overheating, because overheating shouldn’t happen in the first place. User comfort is at the core of the design, meaning the homeowners don’t need to change their behaviour to operate the building. It is – and feels – intuitive, natural and very comfortable to live in.

Tell me about your approach to solar shading?

For Water’s Edge, a contemporary new riverside home led by a brief for masses of light and openness down to the river, we designed solar shading in the form of shutters which take into account the angle of the sun’s penetration into the building, and also blinds that sail over the rooflights so as not to allow the sun to hit the glass during the warmest parts of the day. Despite the large areas of glazing taking advantage of the wonderful river views, large openings allow plenty of fresh air into the building to optimise natural ventilation, and high levels of insulation throughout the walls, roof and floor keep the interior temperature ambient and comfortable throughout the year.


Sustainable new build luxury country home
Stunning contemporary new build home near henley with glazed links and sustainable elements at the heart

What does designing for air tightness mean?

At our new build Ash House, a finalist in the House of Year at the British Homes Award 2021, our clients wanted a home with sustainability at its core – and its daily running.

We designed the building’s external envelope with U-Values below those required under Building Regulations, with the air permeability value also well above the standard specification. This means the heating in the winter and cooler air in the summer can be retained, leakage is minimal, and less energy is needed to keep the desired internal temperature.

Tell me about your award-winning sustainable barn conversion?

Our clients were committed to designing as environmentally-friendly a new home as possible as they converted an old Dutch barn in Buckinghamshire. From the beginning we developed the designs in 3D, enabling the owners to visualise and personalise their building during the design process. Our sustainable design took a fabric first, holistic view of the building within its environment.

We maximised its low impact credentials by capitalising on the south-oriented façade to ensure maximum natural light and designed large south facing windows, and we ensured a highly insulated construction throughout, beyond the building regulation requirements and using eco-friendly insulation. We conducted extensive SAP calculations (for energy efficiencies) to achieve a high-spec rating, again delivering beyond compliance, and we worked with the existing frame structure to achieve airtightness and tackle any thermal bridges.

The Hide contemporary new build home
Final Photograph of The Hide
3D Visualisation of The Hide

What’s another project where you have delivered exceptional an air tightness rating?

A striking contemporary new home and recipient of the Berkhamsted Design Excellence Environment Award and BUILD’s South East Replacement Home Design Award, The Hide was designed to have the highest insulation and taping to compensate as much as possible for a conventional heating system. It went on to receive one of the highest possible air tightness ratings.

About Us

HollandGreen is an award-winning, multidisciplinary studio of architects, interior designers and landscape designers founded in 2010. Our breadth of expertise combining architecture, interior design and landscape design, together with our turn-key service, makes us unique in what we do.  We are uniquely placed as a Design Studio to craft holistically designed homes and gardens that reflect our clients’ personalities and lifestyles.

We work on a range of award-winning renovation and new build projects across the CotswoldsLondonSurreyOxfordshireBuckinghamshire and Berkshire, as well as internationally.

Find out more about our design services, or get in touch for an initial conversation.