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Is The World's First Net-Zero Carbon Skyscraper Coming To Birmingham?

The Curzon Wharf plan for a site at Dartmouth Circus, Birmingham

Passivhaus is a niche enthusiasm in the UK. The Swiss/German standard that insists on high levels of insulation (and therefore super low energy consumption) has largely been confined to domestic houses. Some architects and developers rave about it. Others, less so.

Now emerging plans for the area around Birmingham’s new high speed railway station at Curzon Street promise to take Passivhaus to a whole new level: 53 levels to be precise.

Associated Architects has disclosed plans for a 53-storey build-to-rent tower at Birmingham-based Woodbourne Group’s Curzon Wharf development in Birmingham. The 498-unit scheme, to be called Boulton Tower, could be the world’s first net-zero carbon skyscrapers thanks to a super-insulated ‘optimised thermal envelope’ of the kind Passivhaus recommends. Such claims about being the 'world's first' anything are of course hard to quantify. 

The tower is one of four trialling the insulation technology at the £360M city centre scheme. A second 41-storey tower will provide student housing, and a 14-storey block will provide co-living space. A fourth building will offer 120K SF of office floorspace.

An outline planning application is likely to be submitted in April.

Associated Architects said that the scheme will deliver an optimised thermal envelope in line with Passivhaus principles — super insulated walls, floor and roof; minimisation of thermal bridging; triple glazing; maximisation of daylight; LED lighting; and SMART controls. This will enable fossil fuels to be eliminated from the site, with heat pumps satisfying all heat demands.

There is also likely to be some carbon offsetting required to make up for today’s limited technologies. Even so, the three residential towers are predicted to result in 69% fewer carbon emissions than would have been the case if the design had followed England’s minimum building standards.

Associated Architects worked with engineers Cundall on the plan. “We’ve worked closely with Woodbourne Group and the wider team over the past 18 months to ensure that net-zero carbon principles are embedded in the development, starting with a fabric first and Passivhaus principles, efficient building services systems and removing fossil fuel use on-site,” Cundall partner Alex Carter said.

The proposal challenges Euro Property Investments’ proposals for a 61-storey super-slim Birmingham apartment tower for the title of the city’s tallest building

“Curzon Wharf isn’t just a development, it’s a manifesto that will position Birmingham as UK’s leading smart and sustainable city, helping to pave the way for the UK’s Green Revolution,” Woodbourne Group Chief Executive Tani Dulay said.