Passive Architectural Design Doesn’t Have to Look Modern

Passive design is all the rage among architects these days. Often times, architectural firms combine passive design with modern architectural principles as a selling point. It works, so why not? At the same time, passive design doesn’t have to look modern. It is very possible to design and build a passive house-certified structure that looks rather old.

A good case in point is a recently opened cidery in the Catskill region of upstate New York. Seminary Hill Orchard & Cidery is the world’s first cidery to earn passive house certification. If you didn’t know better, you would think the structure is a centuries-old barn that has been refitted for a modern purpose.

A Nod to the Past

Upstate New York used to be home to hundreds of bank barns that dotted the landscapes of the Hudson Valley, the Finger Lakes region, and even the northern portions of the state. Those barns are getting harder and harder to find. Age and a lack of maintenance are taking their toll.

Seminary Hill owners and architects wanted to preserve a bit of the past. So they decided that their new cidery would reflect the bank barns of days gone by. Despite being rooted in passive design, the structure looks every bit like a barn at first glance. From the road, you might not even know what the building actually is.

One of the ways designers kept the look of a barn without inhibiting passivity was to use exterior cladding that simultaneously resemble old barn boards and filter sunlight. The shape of the structure and its stone foundation complete the picture.

More About Passive Design

Passive design is something architects have been working with for millennia. Even before the practice had an official name, architects knew that designing buildings in concert with nature was integral to maintaining comfort and using energy wisely.

The architects at Sparano + Mooney say passive design is all about reducing the need for mechanical heating and cooling through features built into the structure. Sparano + Mooney is an expert passive design architectural firm active in Utah and throughout the West.

Passive design considers a lot of different things:

  • Natural Sunlight – Natural sunlight can be utilized to heat a structure during the winter months. Finding a way to passively block it can also help keep structures cooler in the summer. Passive design considers the path of the sun across a given property.

  • Exterior Features – In addition to positioning the structure to take advantage of sunlight, exterior features can add to passive design. For example, extensive tree cover is an important feature in managing temperatures.

  • Energy Efficiency – You cannot talk about passive design without mentioning energy efficiency. Architects consider everything from insulation to renewable power sources. The more energy-efficient a structure is, the better it is for the surrounding environment.

  • Sustainability – Although sustainability is not technically part of passive design, many architects incorporate it into their practices. Committing to sustainability only increases the need to find ways to improve passive heating and cooling.

Seminary Hill Orchards’ decision to build a passively designed cidery may have been rooted in a desire to have a building that was both energy efficient and sustainable. But that did not force them to settle for modern architecture that just would not look the part in the Catskills.

Their architects were able to create a structure that is both passive and in keeping with the architectural history of the region at the same time. They now have a building that looks old despite being very modern in its energy efficiency and sustainability.

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