Passivhaus national award goes to Nottingham architecture student

Tuesday, 21 July 2020

An aspiring architect has won the 2020 UK Passivhaus Student Competition for her low-energy primary school designed during her studies at the University of Nottingham.

Carolina Bley, from São Paolo, Brazil, came up with her award-winning concept to provide a high-quality learning environment for young children, as well as an energy-efficient building that meets Passivhaus standards.

The school would serve as the educational heart of the Trent Basin community energy housing development – a waterside regeneration area in Nottingham city centre - and its surrounding neighbourhoods.

Competition judges looked for schemes that identified their Passivhaus strategy, were tested via energy modelling and justified design choices with clear development. The panel commended Carolina’s “decision making via her design iterations”, adding there was a “clear understanding of different façade treatments and beautifully compelling renders”.

Sustainability-conscious Carolina ensured the school not only benefited from renewable energy generated at the Trent Basin development and stored in its community battery, but also reciprocated with solar PV tiles installed on its own south-facing roof.

Carolina, 22, chose a South-North orientation for the school to maximise the heat gains during winter and to control them during summer. She also designed fixed horizontal shading devices in the south and west facades to deliver shade in hot weather while allowing solar radiation to reach the windows during colder months.

Her chosen design combines a building of small form factor, with balanced openings appropriately positioned to provide adequate daylight levels, and an efficient draft-free and insulated envelope.

The external envelope comprises a simple, high-performance shell that gives shelter. Classrooms offer optimal thermal comfort in with fresh air, good daylight levels and adequate temperatures. Meanwhile the central atrium - with fluidly-designed corridors and partitions made of wood strips - creates “a variety of spaces where kids can develop creativity and the ability to interact with others”.

“Environmental design principles were integrated throughout the project and backed up by performative analysis. The design evolved from a spread-out building with a courtyard to a compact building with an expressive central atrium that performs a number of functions. It works as a collective and social gathering space, as well as a distributor of daylight and a crucial part of the ventilation strategy.
Carolina Bley, Department of Architecture and Built Environment student
Trent Basin Primary School, 2020 Passivhaus Student Competition winning design by Carolina Bley from the Department of Architecture and Built Environment, Nottingham

“Materials with a low-carbon footprint that were easy to dismantle for maintenance or replacement were adopted. I therefore chose CLT (Cross Laminated Timber) for the main structure. Aside from its environmental qualities, it is a prefabricated material that helps to deliver the predicted performance, reduces variability on the construction and thus reduces building time.

“It was a unique and incredible experience to design a school for a real-life regeneration scheme and winning the award is a recognition of my work and effort during a fascinating semester of sustainable architecture classes at Nottingham,” adds Carolina, who studied with the Department of Architecture and Built Environment (DABE) before returning to the University of São Paulo in Brazil to continue her studies.

Maria Silos Molina and Amy Xinyu Xu, also from DABE, were shortlisted in the national competition for their impressive works: Waterside Fusion Primary School and Trent Basin Community School respectively. All three students followed a design brief set by their tutors in the Sustainable Design Studio which is part of the Architecture and Sustainable Design MArch programme at Nottingham.

The trio were taught by Professor Lucelia Rodrigues and Dr Lorna Kiamba with input from a host of experts including Nick Ebbs - honorary professor and former CEO of Blueprint which masterminded the Trent Basin development - and Jae Cotterell, Director of Passivhaus Homes and author of ‘The Passivhaus Handbook’.

“Carolina has demonstrated her clear understanding of Passivhaus standards in her winning scheme. A sustainable school would be a great addition to the infrastructure of the Trent Basin development and its vision of community energy. Congratulations to Carolina and all our shortlisted nominees and thank you to the Passivhaus Trust and Tarmac for supporting this initiative over the last five years.”
Professor Lucelia Rodrigues, co-tutor in the Sustainable Design Studio, DABE

Carolina is one of five winners in the fifth and final Passivhaus Student Competition, sponsored by Tarmac. The work of the latest cohort of winners will be displayed in a digital exhibition at the 2020 Passivhaus Conference in November.

Story credits

More information is available from Professor Lucelia Rodrigues on or Emma Lowry, Media Relations Manager (Engineering) on

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Emma Lowry - Media Relations Manager Engineering
Phone: 0115 846 7156
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