Max's house on Grand Designs

12 November 2019


Max's house was recently featured on Grand Designs, as one of the 20 projects longlisted for RIBA House of Year 2019.

Designed and built in collaboration with Max, bere:architects, Price & Myers and Bow Tie Construction, this three-bedroom Passivhaus home is an exemplar of collaboration, innovation and solution-focused design. The house combines an elegant design with a high performance building envelope to limit heating demand.

"Simple, considered and respectful outside, just as pared back and beautiful within... It's plain-speaking, practical architecture at its best. Everything here has a functional purpose... perfectly suited to the needs of its resident. The efficient owner is the renowned engineer Max Fordham, who has devoted his working life to helping buildings save energy." - Kevin McCloud

There is no wet heating system in the building - hot water is produced by an efficient air source heat pump - and PV panels on the roof produce electricity. There was a nice exchange relating to this at the beginning of the feature, with Max explaining the overarching brief for his home:

  • Kevin McCloud: "Max and Justin have built a home that is determined not to use any fossil fuel - a house that doesn't have normal heating: no boiler, no radiators, no underfloor heating, not even a roaring open fire."
  • Max Fordham: "The brief was that on a freezing overcast day, the heat loss would be met more-or-less by people's metabolism in the building and electricity consumption."
  • Kevin McCloud: "So basically, electric lights and the human beings heat the house?"
  • Justin Bere: "And the refrigerator and things like that. A bit of sun when it's available, to be as near to zero energy as possible."
  • Kevin McCloud: "Wow, this is more like it!"

Another later exchange focused on the automated, insulated shutters, which contribute to the high-performance thermal envelope:

  • Kevin McCloud: "Efficiency drives the aesthetic of this place... Max's greatest triumph over wastage is his invention for the windows; insulated, sliding shutters, designed to reduce heat loss. Every window in the house has a shutter."
  • Max Fordham: "When it gets dark in winter, this shutter should operate."
  • Kevin McCloud: "By itself, just automatically closes. Is that the idea?"
  • Max Fordham: "If there's no-one in the house, the shutters close."
  • Kevin McCloud: "The genius of these shutters is they could be adapted and fitted to existing, poorly-glazed homes... to save energy and the planet."

These environmental design concepts have been evidenced in the results. In its first six months of use, Max's home generated more energy than it consumed.

"Max Fordham House is a supremely practical piece of architecture, one that grapples with pressing problems, solving them for the potential benefit of us all. It's a striking achievement by a remarkable man. It represents a really powerful idea, one man's lifetime of trying to affect change in the built environment. A world of experimentation and a dedication towards low energy... Now, we are in an age of incontrivertible climate change and it seems to me that the beauty of this place is magnified by the fact that its time has come." - Kevin McCloud

You can watch the full episode on All4 (the feature on Max's house starts at 29:12) or you can see a short clip from the episode on the Grand Designs twitter feed. You can also read more about the project here.

Sadly, Max's house didn't make the RIBA's shortlist but the judges and Kevin McCloud were both very impressed. Max is also extremely pleased with his new home!

Max is his new home   © Lydia Goldblatt

The environmental design principles for Max Fordham's House    © Max Fordham LLP

Featured Project

Max Fordham's House