Projects & Innovations

Projects & Innovations

Max pursued a new approach to engineering based on his insatiable curiosity about how buildings work. This led to many inventions and innovations across a wide range of sectors, from social housing to galleries, office buildings to concert halls.

There are too many to fit them on all one page, but here's a choice few (you can click on the images to see them full screen)...


Architect: Neave Brown
Completion: 1965

A terrace of houses in Camden, now Grade II-listed, built as a home for Brown’s own family and a small number of friends, including Michael and Patty Hopkins. The scheme acted as a prototype for Brown’s other celebrated housing including the Alexandra Road estate. The services Max designed for this group of five houses included off-peak electrical storage heaters that were built on site and were still working 50 years later.



Architect: Arup Associates and Penoyre & Prasad
Completion: 1967

While at the Arup Building Group (now Arup Associates), Max worked on the conversion of the 19th century malthouse at Snape Maltings into an 800-seat concert hall, under the guidance of Benjamin Britten. Max Fordham, with Derek Sugden, produced the M&E design and natural ventilation strategy. The hall is the centre of the annual Aldeburgh Festival and is famous worldwide for its excellent acoustics. In the late 1990s, the practice designed services for a larger phase of building work at Snape, by architects Penoyre & Prasad. This included the extension and refurbishment of the restaurant and bars, as well as the reorganisation of the back stage areas with the addition of dressing rooms, offices and a recording studio. Improved ventilation and lighting were provided in the auditorium and an energy-efficient cooling system using ground water was introduced.



Architect: Wilson & Womersley
Completion: 1971

This scheme comprised 918 flats constructed for a Local Authority in Hulme, Manchester. It was one of the first medium-high rise schemes built using industrialised, large, pre-cast panel construction.

Max drew the services to the minutest detail, with every component and part number specified and scheduled. This attention to detail meant there was no ambiguity about how things would turn out. Prior to this, the industry had tended to give outline layouts to contractors who would work out how to route things on site. As a result, Max was seen as someone that architects could work with. The electrical conduits were cast in the pre-cast slabs.



Architect: Levitt Bernstein
Completion: 1976

The theatre is a building within a building. The Exchange is an early 20th Century hall with 24m high covered brick columns and three glazed domes. The theatre module was inspired by a NASA lunar landing spacecraft and is a transparent structure of tubular steel and glass that forms a separate structure within the great hall.

The theatre seats 700 people all within 10m of the centre of the stage. This creates a very densely packed space requiring high ventilation rates.One of the most striking features is that all of the services are fully exposed, yet stylistically sympathetic to the architecture. The hot air supply reaches the theatre from a remote plant room via ducts. These ducts have been designed in recurring tree like patterns that make an essential contribution to the visual impact of the building.

The building was later bombed and rebuilt. Max was again involved and devised an innovative lighting design including plasma lamps, originally invented by NASA.



Architect: Neave Brown
Completion: 1978

The big breakthrough for Max was the Alexandra Road Housing Estate for Camden Council in Swiss Cottage. He teamed up with the architect Neave Brown and they won a competition to provide over 500 new homes, a school and community centre. The estate backs onto the busiest railway line in the country so the building was insulated with double walls and windows and its foundations were mounted on rubber pads to absorb vibration. The building itself is also an acoustic barrier from the railway noise, while it's orientation embraces "free" heat and daylight from the sun. Max's design included an innovative heating system comprising pipes embedded in the structural concrete walls. This approach was devised to solve problems of uniform heating, to answer Camden’s brief of the heating being “as economical as possible”, and to hide the heating. It was the first post-war housing estate to become listed.



Architect: Evans & Shalev
Completion: 1978

The competition to design Newport High School in Gwent, Wales, now known as Bettws Comprehensive School, was won by architects Evans & Shalev. The brief called for a comprehensive school for 1200 pupils in addition to a swimming pool, gym and hall which could also be used as a community centre for a new local housing estate.

The educational facilities were linked by a grid of pedestrian walkways, creating a series of courtyards and cloisters. The services in the cloisters were designed sensitively but sparsely to be economical. The entire building was fair-faced, with in-situ coffered concrete ceilings separated from hollow blockwork walls by high-level glazing. The hollow blockwork concealed conduit for the electrical installation. Daylight control for the glazed south elevations was provided by deep overhangs. Heating along this elevation was distributed by low-convector radiators, which were on a continuous pipe run through the in-situ columns.

A special curved fluorescent light fitting was developed to accommodate the ceiling coffers.



Architect: Manning Clamp + Partners
Completion: late 1980s

The competition brief from the PSA for the Sir Joseph Banks Museum and Reference Collection for the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew specified two large spaces, one for public exhibitions and one for the dry plant material reference collection. As both required very stable environmental conditions and low lighting levels, we advised building a cave with very little uncontrolled light. As a result, the building was essentially buried.

Energy-efficient services include a ground source heat pump (one of the first) circulated between a pair of boreholes, with heat added or extracted according to requirements. Heat is distributed by control of water flow, with no need for cooling towers and external heat rejection. The drainage incorporates anti-flood devices.




Architect: CZWG
Completion: 1989

The Circle lay within the London Docklands Development Corporation area. The development comprised 300 apartments with commercial units at ground floor level and 16,000m2 parking on two levels below ground. To reduce construction time, the bathrooms were prefabricated in Scotland and delivered to the site complete with plumbing, marble finishes, carpets etc. already installed. The soil stacks were also prefabricated. These methods reduced the amount of labour on site and thus simplified the site organisation. Pressurised hot water systems remove the requirement for storage tanks within the apartments and improve water pressure without the need for individual pumps. The development was awarded Grade II listing by Historic England in 2018.



Architect: Ted Cullinan
Completion: 1991

The 6,000m2 complex for Ready Mixed Concrete Group incorporated offices, lecture theatres, audio visual suite, laboratories, conference rooms, restaurants, a swimming pool, and a Grade-II listed Georgian building that was adapted for directors’ offices. The complex has landscaped roof gardens and is carefully integrated with the green belt site.

A sophisticated environmental strategy provides comfortable internal conditions without air conditioning, using natural cross- and stack-effect ventilation with some mechanical assistance. The ventilation uses the high thermal capacity of the building fabric; air circulated over the ground slab at night helps reduce peak daytime temperatures. Borehole water is used to cool and dehumidify the air, as well as for garden irrigation and fountains.

The pool is visually linked to the entrance fountain and to the lake beyond. To avoid the obtrusive effect of a glass wall, the pool is separated from the surrounding area by an innovative air curtain.

In 2014, in support of the building being saved from demolition, Max heralded the scheme as an ‘exemplar of sustainability’. He said: ‘The RMC HQ is one of the first single storey office buildings. This enabled it to be naturally lit. Half the energy of a modern office building goes into lighting. This was also one of the first modern offices to not need air conditioning. It is an exemplar for the future.’ Following widespread support, it was given Grade II* listing.



Architect: Evans & Shalev
Completion: 1993

The building's design uses the unique light of its dramatic coastal setting. The services were designed to be integrated with the architecture, as well as efficient and economical. Max thought of the windows in a similar way to a camera lens and convinced the Gallery that dynamic lighting (rather than overly controlled) would give the best experience. Daytime light levels vary enormously in St Ives and lighting in the Gallery is controlled using glass incorporating ultraviolet filters and specially designed fluorescent lights and blinds.

The air in St Ives has an unusually high moisture content; the traditional solution (assumed by the client) would be to install independent air conditioning systems for each gallery, but Max instead designed a single system, which was more compact, less expensive, and easier to fit and maintain.



Architect: John Outram
Completion: 1995

Two former Addenbrookes hospital buildings (now Grade II* Listed) are linked by a 21m high gallery atrium. The central atrium is naturally ventilated by controlled automatic windows, which double as smoke ventilation portals, and air handling units are hidden within circular columns.

Lecture theatres are mechanically ventilated through floor voids, with air supply controlled by a sensor. In winter, heat is reclaimed from the extracted air via runaround coils and delivered into the supply air system. In summer, the ventilation system runs at low volume to pre-cool occupied spaces. A recuperator on the boiler exhaust flues delivers nearly 100% efficiency under certain conditions.



Architect: Feilden Clegg (Bradley Studios)
Completion: 1996

The offices of the Building Research Establishment combined high aesthetic standards with energy efficiency, offering a model for offices of the future.

A sustainable office examplar, the building achieved the highest recorded BREEAM rating by reducing heating energy consumption, avoiding air conditioning and minimising the need for artificial lighting. To provide sufficient natural ventilation and light, the plan depth was kept to 13.5m, with large areas of openable window at both sides. Ventilation is assisted by stacks and circulated via special sinusoidal (wavy) ceilings. Thermal mass is used to minimise temperature variations, and photovoltaic panels reduce energy consumption.



Architect: Alan Short
Completion: 1999

The bold, original redesign of the Contact Theatre was a direct expression of Max's inventive approach to energy-efficient services. The building integrated the 1963 auditorium with additional backstage facilities, a studio theatre, rehearsal rooms, foyer, bar and restaurant. Developed after extensive analysis, the innovative assisted natural ventilation system kept audiences comfortable using a fraction of the energy required by mechanical ventilation. Extract stacks were built on the roof, with H-pot chimneys designed to provide good operation in all wind conditions. Each stack contained a slow-speed axial fan controlled by a BMS to minimise power use and limit noise generation. The stacks also contained sound-absorbing splitters, selected for a low-pressure drop. As the building is close to a busy road, the single air-intake was set in a courtyard, away from traffic.

The practice returned to the Contact Theatre, working alongside Sheppard Robson on the refurbishment and extension that was completed in 2021. The innovative natural ventilation strategy was extended to the extension space with the addition of two new chimneys. Upgrades to the BMS, an increase in daylight, and new LED lighting helps to reduce overall carbon emissions by 13%.



Architect: Foster & Partners
Completion: 2000

The design of the services for the National Botanic Garden of Wales site were designed to minimise impact on the environment, using natural ventilation, heat storage, water recycling and a biomass boiler fuelled sustainability. The centrepiece of the garden is the Great Glasshouse; when designed it was the largest single-span glasshouse in the world.

A range of climates is achieved within the single glazed enclosure by maximising light collection and using automatically controlled natural ventilation and simple heating by a biomass boiler fuelled by waste wood. The boiler provides night-time heating for the Glass House as well as space heating and hot water for other buildings. Rainwater can be collected from the Glasshouse dome for recycling, and site-wide irrigation is supplied from underground water via a borehole. When you walk into the glasshouse on a hot, sunny day, the air movement creates a comfortable environment for visitors, while still being suitable for the plants.



Architect: Levitt Bernstein
Completion: 2000

CASPAR (City-centre Apartments for Single People at Affordable Rents) ll was a development by the Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust of 45 flats in Leeds. The flats provided accommodation of 50m2 with low running costs and a high level of energy efficiency and amenity for people with disabilities.

This project was so ahead of its time in concept, design and construction. The construction consisted of prefabricated parts, with services arriving on site in a pod containing the entrance, kitchen, bedroom and bathroom. The pods were lifted into place and connected to the mains services, which were distributed via vertical ducts. This enabled a construction programme of only 27 weeks.

Max wanted to push the environmental performance at every scale, with pioneering heat recovery systems adopted throughout. He (with another Max Fordham engineer) created a bespoke MVHR unit, with a light bulb in its circuitry to provide electrical resistance.  To reduce traffic noise, an acoustically lined heat reclaim unit was designed to fit above the kitchen cupboards.

Sadly, the building was later demolished, due to structural issues relating to the timber frame.



Architect: Feilden Clegg (Bradley Studios)
Completion: 2003

Heelis, the new central headquarters for the National Trust, provided 6,700m2 of office space for 450 staff, a shop and cafe. Max came up with the principle of every desk being no more than 7m from a window and worked with the architects on the form and orientation of the building to achieve good natural daylight and ventilation, and to accommodate the PV array, which also acts as solar shading for north-facing rooflights.

The result is a two- storey, deep-plan building with generous voids to the first floor plate and rooflights throughout; high daylight levels ensure artificial lighting is only required for around 15% of working hours. The building is naturally ventilated via automated windows and rooflights, and when completed, the overall energy use was among the lowest in the country for an office and was rated as BREEAM 'Excellent'.

Read more about the project here.



Architect: bere:architects
Completion: 2019

“People, and the things they do, generate heat all the time”. Max long held the view that this should be sufficient to keep warm inside on a freezing, overcast day. “Only by achieving this can a building truly be called sustainable”.

The Passivhaus standard was adopted as a robust way to achieve this. The building’s thermal envelope, its ventilation system and its windows are designed so that the heat lost on a freezing cold winter’s day is no more than the heat generated by people living in the house. While the house does have a heating system, it is no bigger than a domestic kettle. With no fossil fuels in the building, a rooftop array of PV meets the majority of the annual energy demands of the house.

All occupied spaces have been designed for excellent daylight. In fact, the artificial lights are generally off during the day. These spaces are also largely orientated southeast. This passively warms up the house in the morning and provides pleasant characterful sunshine.

The building is designed to be passively comfortable whatever the weather. Even during the record-breaking heatwave of 25th July 2019, the indoor temperature never rose above 28oC while London baked at 38oC.

The green roofs, hazel, aromatic rosemary and bay planting all support biodiversity and give a connection to nature. All of these wellbeing benefits helped the house provide Max with a comfortable home for his final years.

Max was heavily involved in the design of his home and enthusiastically engaged with the building after moving in. Max Fordham House won the RIBA London Sustainability Award, a RIBA London Award and was shortlisted for the RIBA House of the Year, all in the year it completed, 2019. It was also crowned Residential Project of the Year at the CIBSE Building Performance Awards 2021.

Read more about the project here.

Featured Project

Max Fordham House