The Brittany region of France has been populated since ancient times, thanks in part to the area’s benign environment. The temperate yet rainy climate could be likened to America’s Pacific Northwest. Extending that comparison to a finer grain, the Bay of Biscay is the France’s Salish Sea and the island-dotted Gulf of Morbihan equates the Puget Sound. From the picturesque gulf town Auray, Patrice Bideau has been practicing architecture since 1991, during which he has specialized in sustainable residences for more than a decade.
Bideau transcended provincial geography in embracing sustainability, explaining that adoption of the Kyoto Protocol in 1997 greatly influenced his change of course. “In France, we were not focused on green building until Kyoto,” he explains, “and even our adoption of better standards depended on the testing and development of higher-performing envelopes.” Now, with proper solar orientation and deep insulation, in an oceanic location architects like Bideau can almost eschew mechanical heating.
In Baden, France, last year Bideau completed a residence that proves his claim (Bioclimatic House). Designed around an existing garden and saltwater swimming pool, the house is sited in the northwest quadrant of the lot, so that interior views focus primarily on those outdoor elements. This move also allowed Bideau to finish the north elevation in concrete block clad in insulated exterior-facing wood frame, with minimal fenestration, to stabilize the house thermally. The south elevation represents the opposite tack, as the architect appended a double-glazed and polycarbonate-roofed conservatory to the building. This small winter garden includes sliding doors, so that in summer it can enhance convection and natural ventilation through the larger house. These and other strategies have worked in tandem to eliminate central heating. Bideau specified only a wood-burning stove and electric radiators for backup.
A nearby project also completed in 2012, a replacement of a 1970s-era home, repeats that success (Bioclimatic House II). In addition to employing concrete block, the new house utilizes plaster tiles comprising interior partitions for thermal mass. It also relies on the heat source and sink of the earth, by burrowing partly into a slope. Like the main elevation of the previous Baden residence, this house primarily faces southwest, with a gable allowing occupants to view the Gulf of Morbihan. During construction, daylighting and solar thermal gain were recorded on the site, from which Bideau and his team struck the capital expense of geothermal heating in favor of another wood-burning stove and a dedicated thermodynamic water heater for bathroom uses. Radiators again provide backup.
Bideau says that air-conditioning is a non-issue in his part of the world. He could eliminate heating altogether, too, by pursuing Passive House standards. The goal is within reach, Bideau says, but he also recalls a statement that Passive House champion Walter Unterrainer had made at a recent conference he attended: While the Austrian architect told attendees that a Passive House does not need heating, “putting in a wood stove or fireplace transforms it into a ‘romantic’ home,” Bideau flashes back.