Cotswolds-based architects Helen and Chris Seymour-Smith, who created Britain’s first Passivhaus, have been building more eco-friendly homes

interview passivhaus architects

How has your practice evolved since your house Underhill was first featured in Grand Designs?

‘It’s been incredible. Since the Grand Design project finished our phone hasn’t stopped ringing. The publicity we gained was all you could wish for really. From passive house build to Paragraph 55 [the building of exceptional homes in open countryside], we have had our choice of exciting homes ever since.’

What made you decide to sell Underhill?

‘We sold it three years ago when a new opportunity came our way, which we didn’t want to miss out on. We have moved into a fifteenth-century manor house in the same village and we’re trying to work technology into a listed building. We’re hoping it gets going this year, but it’s like the cobbler’s children having no shoes – we’re so busy building other people’s houses we’ve no time to work on our own. It’s a very long-term project and it’s never going to be as efficient as Underhill but we believe some energy-saving principles can work. We would prefer to risk our own money to show clients how it can be done.’

What are the most interesting recent designs you’ve been working on?

‘We have taken on all sorts of projects, but we enjoy using modern methods of construction. Frog Lane, for example, uses ICF (insulating concrete framework) and SIPs (structural insulated panels) for the structure. We have started work on designs for Barbury Castle in Wiltshire, where the site is to one side of an Iron Age fort. The brief from the council, who sold it to our client, was to create a modern and interesting build.’

How have you found working on refurbishments, such as the Grade II- listed Paddock End, compared with the complete design of a new-build?

‘Working on Paddock End has been interesting as we used to do a lot more extensions and renovations when we lived in London. Fewer of these kinds of jobs come our way now, but we like the challenges you face when taking on an existing building. However, if it’s a choice of working on a new-build or a refit – it’s a new-build every time.’

Your recent project at Frog Lane has taken on some elements of passive build but hasn’t gone the whole route. What was the reason for this?

‘It has all the ingredients but it hasn’t been certified. We know it works to Passivhaus standards but, for example, we have put in underfloor heating, which isn’t really necessary but it’s there should they need it. We took a view that while it’s important to have a good grounding and understand how Passivhaus works, we didn’t really want to spend a lot of time on paperwork and number crunching. You can’t expect any architect to do everything so we hire a specialist when necessary and they look after all the boring bits.’

Kevins Column

Top self build highlights at Grand Designs Live 2019 hosted by Kevin McCloud

Find top experts, specialist exhibitors and a wealth of inspiration for your self-build or renovation project all under one roof.
visit-award-winning-grand-designs-live-hosted-by-kevin-mccloud
 
 
how-to-manage-your-self-build-during-coronavirus
Self Build Homes

How to manage your self-build project during the coronavirus crisis

What effect will the Coronavirus have on your self-build project? Try these top tips from a project management expert to keep it running as smoothly...
hedge-house-interior-tour
Self Build Homes

Inside a unique, 180 foot long new build in the West Midlands

Take a look inside this striking new build in the West Midlands countryside and find out how much it'd cost to call it home.
building-a-home-in-your-garden
Self Build Homes

Building a home in your garden: what you need to know

Considering building a new house on your home's existing land? Architect Harry Thorpe explains some key considerations.
postponed-grand-designs-live-london-2020
Self Build Homes

Postponed - Grand Designs Live London 2020

Due to guidance surrounding COVID 19, Grand Designs Live London has been postponed until 22nd August 2020 – 31st August 2020. 
add-a-balcony-to-your-self-build
Self Build Homes

Bold balconies to add style to your self-build

Balcony packages are a simple way to add a stylish new element to your home. Discover how architects and self-builders can best use them to...
wales-self-build-scheme-launch
Self Build Homes

Welsh Government launches £210m fund for self build home projects

A new fund is now available to encourage self build home projects in Wales.