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The Autonomous House

After studying together at the University of Cambridge, Professor Brenda Vale and Doctor Robert Vale published ‘The Autonomous House’ which is now widely regarded as the basic text for ‘green living.’ The couple are renowned as architects, writers, pioneer researchers and experts in the field of sustainable housing.

The Autonomous House is a technical guide for developing housing solutions that are energy-self-sufficient, environmentally friendly, relatively easy to maintain and have a traditional appearance.

Through the 1980s the Vales designed a number of commercial buildings in England, notably the thick-walled, super-insulated Woodhouse Medical Centre in Sheffield.

In 1993, the Vales completed the first truly autonomous building in the country, a four-bedroom house for themselves in the historic town of Southwell. This is warmed and powered by the sun, produces its drinking water from rain, composts its effluent, and is consistent with its historic context. The house is completely off-grid except for the telephone line and a connection to the electricity supply. The latter supplies power from the grid when the occupants are using more electricity than is being produced by the solar panels mounted behind the house, and exports at times of surplus generation. Their book ‘The New Autonomous House’ documents the design and construction of their home.

Another key building by the couple is the Hockerton Housing Project (pictured above), five one-story residential units using the same design tactic of thick walls, thermal mass and super-insulation.

Commissioned by the Australian government, they have developed a unique building rating system called NABERS which measures the ongoing environmental impact of existing buildings.