A is for... "Acclaimed physicist and services engineer"

By Franzisca Moeller

01 September 2020

Continuing our series of blog posts devoted to Max's Legacy using each letter of his name, we're moving onto...

A is for...  "acclaimed physicist and services engineer"

"The acclaimed physicist and services engineer has spent decades designing heating systems for projects ranging from council housing to the Royal Festival Hall. He talks at length about the sun, fossil fuels, the laws of thermodynamics and how, in the Industrial Revolution, heat — in the form of steam — displaced human labour." - The Financial Times, 2020

The letter A happens to be a great match for yet another lauded mention of Max, this time in the prestigious Financial Times. In contrast to the article by CIBSE, this piece focused less on Max as a person and more on his "award-winning residence in London". Max's new home is Passivhaus certified to deliver an ultra-low-energy home and is a project genuinely close to Max's heart.

© Tim Crocker

Max's house is built behind the existing brick garden wall.

Max's home in Camden mirrors his love for the environment as much as it reflects his genius in efficient design and his Puritanist mindset - it draws on his lifetime of work applying the principles of simplicity, practicality and replicability to the design of building services.

Drawing on Max's special interest in heat, the article states that it was the logical consequence for him to move into a newly-built home with merely any heating.

His desire to do so was prompted by climate change arising from our carbon emissions.

Max made sobering calculations: "Since life began on Earth, fossil fuels have been laid down at the rate of one gramme per second. In the last 60 years we have been using them at the rate of 500 tonnes per second. Yet we have the most enormous nuclear reactor in the sky giving us huge amounts of free energy. It is such a waste to use fossil fuels for heating.”

© Lydia Goldblatt

Max in his award-winning, sustainable Camden home

© Tim Crocker

The house is passively solar heated during the day, while the thermally massive structure and the shutters help retain this heat throughout the night.

Max's three-bedroom house was designed by London-based architect Justin Bere, a specialist in the German ultra-low-energy standard, Passivhaus. Buildings that meet the Passivhaus criteria have a greatly reduced energy consumption, typically 90 per cent lower than a conventional build, yet they manage to maintain a comfortable temperature and high air quality. This is due to their simple shape, their ideal position to make use of the sun’s winter heat, their air-tightness and their ventilation system.

Since people, and the things they do, generate heat all the time, we can use waste heat from cooking, fridges and computers to keep warm inside on a freezing, overcast day. Max calls this heat source 'the metabolism of the house'.

The building engineering work was, of course, carried out by us, Max's practice that he founded over 50 years ago. Ali Shaw, who took the lead for this project, made use of insulated window shutters that, when not in use, disappear into walls or ceilings. These shutters provide an additional protection against heat loss and can be operated at the touch of a button or on a timer that accounts for changing day length.

“On a typically cold winter’s day (3C average, -2C at night, 7C max during the day) which is pretty cold, the house will maintain a comfortable 20 degrees. If the house is left empty during the coldest part of winter it will tend to cool down but if there are clear sunny days, the automated shutters should harvest solar heat.” - Ali Shaw, Principal Engineer

© Tim Crocker

Windows open fully to reject heat during the summer, while wintertime fresh air is supplied silently and efficiently through 3D-printed jet nozzles.

© Lydia Goldblatt

While many people might be tempted to switch on the 2kW heater that lives in Max's house just for the unlikely case he will ever feel too cold, Max would rather put on a pullover. “Puritanism is good,” he says.

Completed in March 2019, Max's home won the RIBA London Sustainability Award 2019, a RIBA London Award and was shortlisted for the RIBA House of the Year 2019.

Max had a (literal) housewarming party at his house soon after moving into it in March 2019 and it's kept warm and comfortable ever since!

"With its reused bricks and lime mortar, Austrian larch cladding, white interior walls, tall ceilings, oak joinery, cork floors and windows and doors that open on to a small courtyard, balconies and a rooftop hazel coppice, it is also a masterpiece of design and craftsmanship" - The Financial Times


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