Would the Farnsworth House meet the FEES Target?

The answer is no, and I haven’t wasted my time checking! My point is that the FEES Standard is starting to dictate housing form as well as fabric standards. Our analysis on several projects indicates that some housing typologies will become increasingly difficult to use with the 2013 and 2015 Building Regulations. Any housetype where the ratio of the building envelope to the floor area approaches 1:1 is in danger of failing the FEEs standard. While there is a potential get around in assessing terraces as a whole for FEES, this is a lengthy and complex set of calculations and designers won’t be able to carry them out without the advice of a SAP assessor, long before a SAP assessor is usually involved. The default behaviour of housebuilders will be to omit types that cause trouble. I expect to see fewer Flats over Garages, particularly in terraces in the future. This makes me uncomfortable as a designer and makes me question the value of this particular Regulation. The purpose of Regulation should be to set designers and developers targets that make them work harder, but not to limit their options. This doesn’t appear to me to be accidental either.  Take this section from the current Building Regulations 2013 consultation:

The main downside of the flexibility of the notional building approach is that there is no way to incentivise more efficient forms. In contrast, absolute targets, which have to be met by a particular building type regardless of shape, location or size, could be a way to rule out less efficient forms.

As an environmentalist I believe that energy saved is the cheapest way to a low carbon future and that efficient buildings are the sine qua non of energy saving. But we must allow for exceptions and variety in building forms. Architecture is one of the arts, possibly the oldest, and we should allow for artistic license now and again.


Farnsworth House - Architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe - http://www.flickr.com/photos/jlscha/

The Farnsworth house never worked as a house, but it worked as an image of man living close to nature in a way that has universal appeal. Thoreau would have lived in a version of this in Walden if only he had had curtain walling at his disposal. Sometimes the purpose of architecture is to be inspiring and not just compliant. If the Farnsworth house were to be reconstructed as a PassivHaus, then it would be a better place to live, cheaper and it could be occupied in comfort all year around, but who would see a picture of it and want to live in it, I mean really, really want to? The Farnsworth house is a metaphor for living close to nature, a retreat from urban life, to refresh the spirit. It’s not a model for 20th century housing, but it has its place in the lexicon of types that we should know, understand, and refer to as aspirations for living, for experience, for life.


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