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What's Next: Serge de Gheldere
Article Photo

The Tesla Roadster of Green Building

Mobility, food, and buiding sectors cause 70 to 80% of the total environmental impacts in society. Working solutions for these problems do exist, yet somehow have failed to enter the mainstream.

So, maybe 2007 should be about carefully choosing our battles, choosing the best places to intervene. 10 years ago, the late Donnella H. Meadows wrote about this:

People who manage to intervene in systems at the level of paradigm hit a leverage point that totally transforms systems. [...] There's nothing physical or expensive or even slow about paradigm change. In a single individual it can happen in a millisecond. All it takes is a click in the mind, a new way of seeing.
slide.014.jpg Therefore, I think we should carefully choose our ‘battles’ so that we can both drastically reduce of CO2 emission and environmental damage, and demonstrate how feasible, desirable, affordable and ultimately preferable a sustainable society could be.

Tesla Motors get this, and have a terrific master plan to take on the automobile-related problems, at least in part. My position is that passivhaus buildings could achieve the same on in building: 75% to 85% reduction in emissions and energy use, and with careful design there is no need to incur much additional costs.

I personally know the family living in the first passive house in the Benelux. It cost approximately $910/m2 to build (that’s $85/sqft for our readers in Liberia, Myanmar and USA), and their yearly total utilities bill is around $1.3/m2 ($0.15/sqft)

slide.005.jpg Above all, though, this family would not want to miss the exceptional thermal comfort found in this house: no temperature gradients, no draughts, lots of fresh air. Just a warm, healthy environment without ‘punishment,’ constraints, or compromise. An experience shared by many living or working in the more than 6,000 passive buildings across Europe (housing, office buildings, apartments, university dorms, sport facilities, supermarkets, etc.)

Curiously enough, on the American Institute of Architects 2006 Top Ten Awards for green projects, not a single passivhaus building. So let’s find a gutsy, visionary leader who would consider this kind of innovation applied to a high visibility, high impact office building in Silicon Valley. Make a ruckus about it, set an example and inspire others to follow.

And do well in the process.


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Interesting post. There is a definite need to change the way we think about our buildings and the energy they consume.

I was also hoping to take a closer look at those graphics. Any way you can link them to a larger image? Thanks!

Posted by: jeannette on 27 Dec 06

Jeanette (and others): you can find information on the Passivhaus approach, in English, French and German, at this web site.

Posted by: David Foley on 27 Dec 06

Also, the link to "total environmental impacts in society" doesn't work.

You know, this situation is like saying "I love this jacket so I ask the taylor to make it perfect". ;)

Happy New Year!

Posted by: lugon on 28 Dec 06

Hey Serge,

I've got a nominee for your "gutsy, visionary leader" - William McDonough.

Check out his article in Fortune this past November

or got to his website


Posted by: Marcella on 28 Dec 06

just an idea: list all the architects who are already able do design passivehaus on your website as a reference. I would have trouble to find a good architect with this special expertise here in germany. Its just a minor step when you want a passivhaus, I know, but it assume it would help to spread the idea.

Posted by: Hartmut on 30 Dec 06

Actually, Marcella,

I don't agree with the choice visionary leader, Michael McDonough. I think his and Michael Braungart's ideas and work are well-meant and interesting. But I really think we need to focus on drastically reducing energy use as a priority, and do that with an affordable, existing methodology.

I had read the fortune article, and he refers to the things he wants to do as "state of the shelf", meaning existing, but economically not viable.

Truthfully: I had more someone like Steve Jobs in mind. He's got a lot to gain on the environmental front, and if done well, this building would set the bar for the competition to follow.

Happy new year,


Posted by: Serge de Gheldere on 1 Jan 07

The first link should be this:



Posted by: Serge de Gheldere on 1 Jan 07

There is already a US passive house movement in motion. The first passive house was built in 2002 in Urbana, Illinois. In October 2006 we organized the first North-American Passive House Symposium in Bemidji, MN, where Stephan Tanner built the first commercial Passive House for the Concordia Language Village, the latest passive house project by Nabih Tahan is ongoing in Berkeley, CA.

Posted by: Katrin Klingenberg on 3 Jan 07

Interesting architecure and design, which bring high benefit in reducing CO2 emission. I visited the website and read some articles and information. It would be interesting and challenging to see its implementation in such tropical country, where there is no "cool" period.

I am looking forward for this "battle".

Posted by: Arie Dipareza Syafei on 5 Jan 07



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