Text: Superuse on site | Photography: © Denis Guzzo
GREENHOUSE embodies the classic look of a wooden barn and the typical structure of Dutch greenhouses: reused materials combined with DIY community-based building for a low impact and comfortable living environment
In the heart of the Dutch countryside of Drenthe, Superuse on Site designed and developed an exceptional living unit for the “Foundation for The New World.” Formed in 1969, this international community is one of the oldest in The Netherlands. The collective owns 10 hectares of land, where they live following a sustainable and self-sufficient lifestyle, ecological thinking, and spiritual awareness.
↑ aerial views of the GreenHouse immersed in the countryside | © Denis Guzzo
In the context of an intentional and environmentally aware community, Superuse on Site created a synergy between the design and building process, resulting in a communal effort and empowering cooperation during the whole process. Greenhouse embodies the classical look of a Dutch wooden barn and the typical structure of Dutch greenhouses. The structure forms a barrier between the southern vegetable garden and the backyard, where parking, firewood storage, and recycling are organized.
↑ Image slider: aerial views of the GreenHouse
Superuse on site
Design a flexible house for two families in the community that can be transformed, if needed, into a home for four-families in the future. The house must represent an example of a living unit that utilizes as little energy as possible for heating and ventilation, be built with as little impact as possible during construction, and once in use. There was a budget of €250,000; exceeding this would be at the expense of the social sustainability of the community. It is preferably to be built from bio-based materials and reused components, with a natural look.
↑ The northern facade with limited windows to optimize the internal micro-climates.
↓ The western and eastern sides reveal the hybrid use of material.
Approach and process
Superuse on Site approached the initial phase of the design process by living at the location for a month, creating an inventory of the available materials on site, the various local flows, and the skills available among the community. The design and sustainability principles adapted to these primary conditions and available resources. Thanks to the building skills of the owners and volunteers and the low-tech climatic approach, S.o.s. was able to develop this outstanding project within the given budget.
S.os adaption of the concept presented in DeKay, M., Brown, G.Z. (2014) Sun, Wind & Light. Architectural Design Strategies. ↑
An ecosystem of disciplines
By choice, most of the design was created on-site, allowing for direct dialog and decision-making with the community, and for making the most of direct observations of the flows of materials, functions, and the climate study across the seasons. An initial concept of a mud house in a glasshouse was further developed to a mud coated and wooden cladded strawbale house merged with a glasshouse. S.os then worked closely with SUS ateliers whose teachers and students developed climate models and calculations.
Though the project was supervised by the architects and advisors an environment was created to learn and share knowledge. Furthermore, to feed and house all the volunteer workers with healthy and organic food, the community developed additional facilities. The gardens were cultivated to provide a variety of vegetables. A bakery was set up, and the local company Westerzwam implemented mushroom cultivation on coffee grounds from the daily coffee breaks of a nearby military base.
In addition, a workshop, a canteen with a cafeteria, and several tiny houses were built across the plot of land. The facilities created to support the building process resulted in a relevant upgrade that has strengthened local food production and economy. They remain in use for communal dinners, bartering, trading food with neighbors and friends, and hosting visitors.
Materials and technique
The sketch design for the GreenHouse was converted into a shopping list of building materials to be ‘harvested’. Inhabitants and volunteers were trained by Superuse, joining together as the ‘Harvest Team’, scouting and listing suitable material options. From these findings, the final selection of materials was based on their potential, price, transport distance and logistics, and prioritizing the most natural and durable. As a result, most materials for the GreenHouse were found either on-site or at neighboring properties. Superuse method is adaptive; many details were not pre-defined but created during the construction process, adapting to the chosen materials and their peculiarities.
As a result, most materials for the GreenHouse were found either on-site or at neighboring properties. Superuse method is adaptive; many details were not pre-defined but created during the construction process, adapting to the chosen materials and their peculiarities.
The wooden skeleton, efficiently upcycled, offered flexibility for DIY construction, layout variants, and reuse. All materials were harvested from local businesses and farmers. The attached greenhouse has been reinforced with standard greenhouse materials such that it complies with building regulations. Implementing passive climatisation approaches with optimal orientation, sizing and zoning, thick insulation, and the mass of clay flooring, two mass-heaters, and 16 PV/warm water panels are more than enough added technology to create a comfortable living environment.
Durability and low energy consumption
The house is designed and built to be adaptable and last for many generations. It can breathe thanks to the straw/clay walls, it is naturally ventilated, and it supplies electricity, resulting in only a short wood heating season being needed. Positioning, orientation, size, and shape are fine-tuned to optimize the internal climate across the seasons.
Sun, shadow, and prevailing winds analysis were taken into account when locating the GreenHouse on the property. Low vegetation on the north facade enhances privacy and cooling ventilation, while a row of trees on the south can provide more shade in the summer. Because of this position, the house warms itself with the low winter sun.
↓ Details: interior views of the ground floor.
↑ Single images: interior views of the ground floor and the stair.
Insulation, zoning, buffering reduces heating, cooling and daylighting needs
During the summer period, a cool air flow is created from the shaded north microclimate where windows are minimalized to provide light where needed. The locally sourced highly insulating straw walls provide insulation the whole year.
Clay was sourced from directly next to the house, applied as a 6 cm layer to the straw bale walls and as a 30cm layer on top of the concrete foundation over the entire ground floor. When appropriately exposed or shaded from the sun’s rays, this thermal mass helps to stabilize the interior temperature by slowly releasing warmth or coolth.
Core living and daytime spaces are buffered from unwanted heat gain or heat loss. Functions needing more daylight and warmth (living, dining, cooking, study, and play) are grouped and zoned towards the natural daylight and warmer southern side. Functions needing less light and warmth (storage, hallways, stairs, bedrooms, and bathrooms) are grouped and zoned toward the darker and cooler northern side and attic.
a) Foundation: 2 x 10 cm reused PIR Rc 10 b) Walls: straw bales Rc 7
c) Roof: reused SandwichPanels Rc 9,6.
d) Windows: reused HR+ (U 1.6 Rc 0.6 Movable extra insulation +Rc 1
Shutter, thermal curtains, thermal blinds add an extra Rc value of 1.0 to windows.
The glasshouse acts as climate machine for sun driven ventilation, warming and cooling
When the sun shines, the air in the glasshouse warms quickly, creating a stack effect. The updraft of hot air generated can move either warm or cool air through the house, depending on which window and door vents are opened or closed.
All internal doors have ventilation grills, and all windows have ventilation and two settings to manually regulate the flow of air.
The glasshouse reduces heat loss from the main house as windows are protected from cooling wind and rain. This increases the insulation value of the southern facade by an additional Rc of 0.2. Combined with individually managed internal thermal curtains, the two layers add an additional Rc of 2 giving a total Rc of 4.2 for the southern facade at night.
↑ The manual mechanism regulates the aperture of the greenhouse’s glass windows.
→ In addition to the thermal mass and insulation, low-tech solutions such as sun shading and roof windows can be adapted to the weather. After an extended study, S.os is now developing automation that can assist the inhabitants with the harvesting of direct sun, for passive heating or shading.
← ROOF INSTALLATIONS The building is oriented 3 degrees east of solar south and with a 25-degree inclination of the southern roof to maximize direct solar gain in winter:
– 16 solar PV panels provide electricity for the GreenHouse as well as for a neighboring house.
– 6 x solar tube panels close to the bathrooms provide hot water for living units.
As well as monitoring the climate response of the building after delivery, S.o.s. also provided general guidelines for optimizing the different aspects of the passive climatisation system, such as the addition of shading curtains for the big glass facade, the manual mechanism for roof openings, and other guidelines that prioritize the active use of the passive house design features for a low energy consumption but still comfortable living.
↑ In the northern, eastern, and western facades, windows were strategically placed for views, daylight, or ventilation. Roof windows also provide for ventilation and light in key areas such as over the staircases and first-floor bathrooms →
Also the interaction with the landscape was taken into account when placing the windows, creating beautiful views enhanced by the interior’s perspectives ↓