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More and more buildings are realizing the benefits from proper design - profiting from powerfully efficient designs. This MIT Technology Review article details the concepts behind an affordable multifamily project that meets passive design standards.

This May, residents chosen from a lottery of 2,600 applicants are scheduled to begin moving into 98 affordable housing units in the new Finch Cambridge building on Concord Avenue near Fresh Pond in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Designed by Boston’s Icon Architecture, the building features playful bay and corner windows to let in sunlight and allow cross-­ventilation, a lobby with a vaulted ceiling and an open staircase meant to entice people to forgo the elevators, and other thoughtful touches like sage-green accent walls and large floor tiles in the bathrooms to minimize the use of dirt-attracting grout. Its family-friendly laundry room is next to a large community space with a lounge, a kitchen area, and homework nooks—and both are sited on the top floor, with windows offering stunning views of Fresh Pond and access to a rooftop terrace that will have raised beds for gardening.

But what’s most remarkable about the building isn’t visible at all.

Finch Cambridge was designed to meet the world’s most energy-efficient building standard, known as the Passive House (PH) standard, which will make it dramatically cheaper to heat and cool than a typical building. In fact, it’s projected to be 70% more energy efficient than the 2016 national average for multifamily buildings. Airtight and extremely well insulated, such a structure is considered “passive” because it can efficiently maintain its temperature no matter what the weather outside, relying only minimally on traditional heating and cooling systems. “It’s effectively a thermos,” says Finch Cambridge’s project manager, Michelle Apigian, MA ’00, MCP ’00, an associate principal and sustainability leader at Icon Architecture who also worked on the building’s design. The Passive House approach, which works for all types of buildings from single-family homes to skyscrapers, calls for a ventilation system that carefully controls intake of fresh air and recovers the heat (or air-conditioned coolness) from outgoing stale air. That not only reduces the need for heating and cooling but delivers better indoor air quality for healthier, more comfortable living spaces. You can still open a window for a burst of fresh air if you really want to.

Given all the benefits—and the fact that buildings account for 54% of energy usage in Massachusetts—it’s surprising that Finch Cambridge will be only the second multifamily PH building in the state.

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