Building for today without endangering tomorrow 


Every BRIGHT project is fully sustainable and energy efficient, formally certified as such by BREEAM or Passive House. We take a look at how Passive House certification works in relation to the ultra-luxurious Villa Alcuzcuz.

Article by Vivion O’Kelly

Villa Alcuzcuz, south facade
The award-winning Villa Alcuzcuz, south facade

To begin, a little history lesson. Engineer and philosopher Sir Ove Arup, who died in 1988, is considered one of the foremost architectural structural engineers of his time. Although having played a key part in the design of the Mulberry temporary harbours used in the Normandy landings in WW2, he is remembered mainly for having founded the multinational professional services firm now simply known as the Arup Group.

Sir Ove Nyquist Arup
Sir Ove Nyquist Arup, CBE, MICE, MIStructE, FCIOB, one of the foremost architectural structural engineers of his time

Arup is now working with  BRIGHT as consultants for the Passive House certification of international award-winning Villa Alcuzcuz, Marbella’s first avant-garde luxury house designed to be built under Passive House regulations and standards. 

Passive House is the world’s leading standard in energy efficient construction, and not, as many people apparently believe, a new way to describe any eco-friendly new building.  It originated in Denmark in 1988, and the first Passivhaus (German branch) residences were built in Darmstadt in 1990. There are now many thousands of such structures of all types in Europe, mostly in German-speaking countries and Scandinavia. As a matter of local interest, the world’s tallest building certified under the standard is in Bilbao.

Bolueta Tower, in Bilbao, Spain
The world’s tallest Passive House certified building, the Bolueta Tower, in Bilbao, Spain

The Passive House standard means quality, unparalleled comfort and very high energy efficiency, guaranteeing more than 75% saving on energy costs compared to a standard build. Quality design and craftsmanship is a given, ensuring high levels of insulation and heat recovery ventilation in all Passive House constructions. How best to meet these rigorous energy efficiency standards is left to the buildings’ designers, since Passive House describes a performance standard rather than a specific method of construction.    

Careful planning and execution are essential in achieving Passive House certification, and there are minimal energy demands in all new buildings, although geography does play its part with regard to varying local requirements. In hotter climates such as Southern Spain, for example, it is clearly more important to focus on cooling a house rather than heating it, although the bottom line is always the same: keeping the total energy needed for both heating and cooling as low as possible. Local climate and individual components may vary, but the standard remains the same.

Passive house energy consumption chart

There are three levels of certification that concern a new build: Classic, Plus and Premium, each being dependent on renewable primary energy demand and generation of renewable energy. There are separate criteria relating to older buildings and those that do not fully comply with Passive House criteria. Villa Alcuzcuz is, of course, fully expecting to achieve top certification.

At a more detailed level, Passive House certification requires exceptional efficiency in insulation, using thermal bridge-free design and construction to create an airtight building envelope. It is therefore essential to have well-insulated window frames and glazing, while ventilation is achieved with highly efficient heat or energy recovery. This means mechanical ventilation with a heat recovery and bypass system involving air inlets and outlets, filter units, frost protection, post heating coils, a duct system and air valves for supply and extraction.

Villa Alcuzcuz, north facing facade
Villa Alcuzcuz, north facing facade

Windows not only allow daylight to enter rooms, but also make use of the sun’s energy to warm the building. In cool temperate climates, Passive Houses have noble gas-filled, triple-glazed panes with well-insulated frames. During the winter, such high quality windows allow more of the sun‘s thermal energy into the building than they let out. During the warmer months, and in warmer climates closer to the equator, the sun sits higher in the sky, resulting in reduced solar heat gains just when they’re needed less. Appropriate shading is also of prime importance.

Villa Alcuzcuz, formal lounge
Villa Alcuzcuz, formal lounge

Villa Alcuzcuz, due to its privileged location high in the hills above the coast, already has exceptional air quality at all times, day and night, winter and summer, and this translates into a permanently high level of thermal performance inside the house, whatever the season. The villa’s unusually high standards of design and construction guarantees the absence of mold and condensation on the surface, and other construction pathologies derived from humidity and air infiltration. With excellent levels of acoustic insulation and minimal energy consumption, partly covered by the energy generated on the plot itself, the result is a building that keeps total energy needs for both heating and cooling extremely low.

Villa Alcuzcuz,
Villa Alcuzcuz, looking across the pool into the formal lounge

Passive House means just what it says: efficient heating and cooling systems that work naturally, without creating a fuss. To live in such a house is to experience nothing but a feeling of well-being at all times with regard to air quality and temperature, and as we are all well aware of, there are few things in life quite as important as the quality of the air we live in. Passive House certification ensures that maximum sustainability and energy efficiency works for us right now, and will continue to work for us into the distant future.

The award-winning Villa Alcuzcuz (Best Architecture Single Residence, Spain & Best Architecture Single Residence, Europe) was designed by UDesign and is being developed by BRIGHT. The villa is currently under construction, very close to completion, and was sold in January 2021.