written by:
January 22, 2009
Originally published in Around the World

The Lighthouse, by British architects Sheppard Robson, seeks to redefine the future of residential energy by plugging into the sky itself.

wind catcher house england
The most unique feature of the Lighthouse is the windcatcher, or the vertical void that cuts down through the center of the house from the roof.
1 / 3
At the top of the house sits the ultra-modern descendant of an ancient Middle Eastern cooling tool: an air shaft with operable shutters that release hot and cool air.
2 / 3
The Lighthouse lives up to its name, filled with natural daylight from floor to double-height ceiling. Light wood, white walls, and plenty of glass help keep the place bright.
3 / 3
wind catcher house england
The most unique feature of the Lighthouse is the windcatcher, or the vertical void that cuts down through the center of the house from the roof.
Project 
Lighthouse
Architect 

The building industry’s voracious appetite for both energy and natural resources has many architects aspiring toward zero waste, zero emissions, and zero grid-sourced energy use in their designs—–but everyone needs a good example to help them achieve their goals. The Lighthouse, a London-area show home, has the potential to make a huge impact on the practice of sustainable architecture because of its minimal impact on the planet.

Designed by Sheppard Robson for the Building Research Establishment (BRE), the Lighthouse bundles together a number of advanced technologies to meet the highest level of the Code for Sustainable Homes—–a new set of sustainability criteria with which all new homes in England must comply by 2016. For instance, the sloping 40-degree pitched roof integrates a photovoltaic array with highly efficient structural insulated panels (SIPs), attractive timber framing, and mechanical ventilation with heat recovery (MVHR) to maintain consistent indoor temperatures. The standard interior layout has also been inverted, with sleeping quarters placed on the ground floor and living areas above. This gives the most heavily trafficked rooms maximum exposure to sunlight through double-height windows and a rooftop light shaft.

Perhaps the most unique feature of the Lighthouse, though, is the windcatcher—–a low-tech passive cooling system that has been around for millennia but rarely appears in new construction. Originally designed and used in Persian oasis cities, the device works like a chimney.

A traditional windcatcher is a vertical void, like an air well, made from brick, stone, or other basic building materials. It cuts down through the center of a house, from the roof all the way to the basement. On each floor of the interior, the windcatcher has shuttered apertures that can be opened or closed as needed, depending on the season. Used in conjunction with windows on the outside of the house, and with doors in the central corridor, a well-operated windcatcher lets residents directly manipulate the flow of air into and out of the home—–and there’s no need to use electricity.This process generates a kind of personal weather system, sending cool breezes out from the center of the house (when the windcatcher pulls cool air down from roof level) or dispersing hot winds upward through the structure (when it sucks hot air up from inside). Activated naturally by gradations in temperature from top to bottom, it’s like a preventative, self-regulating air conditioner.

Windcatchers can also be used in tandem with underground streams. Air passing over the super-cool subterranean water creates chilly residential microclimates; the effect can be so intense that long before the advent of electricity, icehouses could be operated—–even in summer. The Iranian cityof Yazd, for instance, located at the meeting point of two deserts, is famous for its giant windcatching towers, which help to define the city’s skyline. Many of these sit atop domed cisterns, or ab-anbar, in which chilled water can be stored for several seasons. Ice making has been abandoned inside these structures for reasons of bacteria,but indoor reservoirs will always be useful in a desert climate.

Of course, the top end of any windcatcher risks turning into nothing but an inlet for dust and bugs—–and even birds—–but filters and screens can be installed to maintain the divisionbetween inside and outside. Traditional designs also include internal dust sills, which work when the bottom of the shaft is wider than the top, thus slowing down breezes at the base—–and allowing dust to settle.

Windcatchers are surprisingly sophisticated climate-control devices. Many people wonder how our ancestors ever survived without air-conditioning—–let alone without Diet Coke and iPods—–but these low-tech designs are inspiring evidence that living comfortably does not, by necessity, mean living with electricity.

For now, the Lighthouse stands near London, uninhabited, as it undergoes monitoring and research. Unfortunately,in late 2007, the green prototype was found to fall short of the British construction standards for zero-carbon homes. The design itself called for
a building of the highest level of sustainability, but when it came time for construction, airtightness proved challenging in such a unique structure.

If they can work out the kinks, the architects estimate that the Lighthouse’s total energy bills will be only £31 per year (roughly $60), all of which will go toward purchasing wood pellets for the biomass boilers. With this setup in place the building’s electricity will not only be renewable, it will be nearly as free as the wind.

Join the Discussion

Loading comments...

Latest Articles

20160229 dgd highhouse 1777 1024x683
Two toddlers, a pup, and their parents fit onto a 16.5-foot-wide plot in an inner suburb of Melbourne.
May 27, 2016
rec
Every week, we highlight one amazing Dwell home that went viral on Pinterest. Follow Dwell's Pinterest account for more daily design inspiration.
May 27, 2016
capitol gains seattle multifamily living dining room wassily chair chaise le corbusier cb2
Two Seattle architects design and build a dynamic multifamily structure on a formerly vacant lot.
May 27, 2016
modern beach house thatch roof living dining bar cart
By eliminating walls and incorporating a series of interior gardens, architect José Roberto Paredes creates an eclectic and inspired El Salvador beach house.
May 27, 2016
7
A two-story Eichler in San Francisco gets a freshening up.
May 27, 2016
Bathyard renovation in Madrid, Spain
In Madrid, Spain, Husos Architects renovate a turn-of-the-20th-century apartment for a client with dual passions: her houseplants and a nice, long bath.
May 26, 2016
Exterior of Huneeus/Sugar Bowl Home.
San Francisco–based designer Maca Huneeus created her family’s weekend retreat near Lake Tahoe with a relaxed, sophisticated sensibility.
May 26, 2016
starting over sturgeon bay facade tongue and groove new growth cypress  0
After a devastating fire, architect David Salmela designs a house to replace a beloved lakeside retreat in Wisconsin.
May 26, 2016
Modern home with brick base and cedar rain screen on top level
An architect reimagines an outdated brick garage by designing a graceful new family home atop its foundation.
May 26, 2016
sardenya lr 7
A renovation brings light and order to a Spanish flat, maintaining its standout ceilings.
May 25, 2016
pow 5 25 1
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
May 25, 2016
young guns 2016 emerging talent thom fougere winnipeg canada cthom fougere studio thom fougere saddle chair 2
Designer Thom Fougere plays with scale and typology to create playful furniture.
May 25, 2016
prs my16 0067 v001 1
In the worlds of architecture and design, we’re always looking for the best ways of supporting sustainable building practices. This awareness doesn’t have to stop at our driveways but rather, it can extend to the cars we choose to take us to the places we go each day. With Toyota’s 2016 Prius, the daily task of getting from point A to point B can now be experienced with a new level of efficiency, safety, and style.
May 25, 2016
mountfordarchitects western australia
On a narrow site in Western Australia, Mountford Architects makes the most of a tight spot—with an eye to the future.
May 25, 2016
San Francisco living room with Wassily chairs
Materials and furniture transformed the layout of this San Francisco house, without the need for dramatic structural intervention.
May 24, 2016
shiver me timbers tallow wood kitchen
A pair of married architects put their exacting taste to work on their own family escape in the Australian bush.
May 24, 2016
in the balance small space massachusetts cantilevered cabin glass facade
When nature laid down a boulder of a design challenge in the Massachusetts mountains, an architect’s solution elevated the project to new heights.
May 24, 2016
Wooden Walkways
A home in Ontario, Canada, demonstrates how factory-built housing can be as site sensitive as traditional construction.
May 24, 2016
15 icff 5
From Corian furniture to immersive installations, here are some of our favorite designs we saw at the 2016 shows.
May 24, 2016
gpphoto44
A home and community celebrate natural remove in unison.
May 24, 2016
With our annual issue devoted to the outdoors on newsstands, we did a lap of Instagram for some extra inspiration.
May 23, 2016
forest for the trees english prefab mobile home facade chesnut cladding
On the edge of a historic park in an English shire, a prefabricated home sets a new design standard.
May 23, 2016
tread lightly australia
A family home on Australia’s Mornington Peninsula is built to blend in with its lakeside setting.
May 23, 2016
jardins party dining room hay chairs local wood floor
A pair of architects help a client carve out an oasis of calm amid São Paulo’s bustle.
May 23, 2016
hwm6zf 1
No matter where you're located or what time of the year it is, having a fireplace in your home is a treasure that’s continuously sought after. Besides the obvious benefits of keeping a fire going through the cold winter months, it can also be a cherished asset that provides an extra level of year-round comfort—not to mention how it can help define the layout of a space by acting as a sculptural element.
May 23, 2016
An office Crosby Studios designed for NGRS in Moscow
Crosby Studios just cares about the essentials.
May 22, 2016
cold sweat seattle floating sauna gocstudio
A cadre of designers let off steam after hours by building and sailing a seaworthy sauna.
May 22, 2016
in the swim off the grid campsite healdsburg california swimming pool solar heat lap pool ipe deck loll designs lounge chairs
An off-the-grid house that is little more than a decked campsite—albeit with a roof—includes a swimming pool for a family that loves to enjoy the elements.
May 21, 2016
A print by Kristina Krogh
From flat to physical, Kristina Krogh masters every dimension.
May 21, 2016
scifi
Every week, we highlight one amazing Dwell home that went viral on Pinterest. Follow Dwell's Pinterest account for more daily design inspiration.
May 21, 2016