Thanks to the good thermal shielding of clay-brick masonry, the Britten Pears Archive does not require any mechanical temperature control in order to preserve its collection.

The Britten Pears Archive in Suffolk, England, was designed to preserve the composer Benjamin Britten’s comprehensive archive without the help of mechanical temperature control. This is possible due to good thermal shielding which is provided by natural and sustainable clay-brick masonry.

This public exhibition building holds the fragile, world-class collection of music, manuscripts, letters, photographs and recordings from the great composer.

The building has won numerous architectural awards, including a Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) National Award, an American Institute of Architects UK Excellence in Design Award and the Civic Trust Award for sustainable architecture.

What any modern wall should do
Any building envelope today must fulfil a number of requirements. It needs to protect from rain, hail and wind, fire, flood, and of course crime and civil unrest. It must also block street and neighbourhood noise, and provide comfortable living spaces in the heat of summer and the cold of winter. In order to meet these multiple requirements, most wall structures are layered, with each layer fulfilling one or more functions.

The concept of thermal mass is typically well understood by architects, and is implemented as a double-leaf cavity wall. Specifically, there is usually one layer of lightweight thermal insulation sandwiched between inner and outer leaves of a more robust construction material.

Dense materials such as clay brick provide security and structure, but also thermal regulation. They moderate internal temperature extremes by slowly absorbing heat from the sun during the day, and then conducting it through the wall to warm the structure at night.

Thermal shielding
In his 2015 research paper “Contribution of thermal resistance and thermal mass to the energy demand of walling systems”, Dariusz Alterman of the University of Newcastle, AU, describes an investigation into the thermal performance of four common walling systems for housing.

Alterman also explores the concept of thermal shielding. When the outer walling material has a high thermal capacity, it absorbs considerable amounts of heat as the external temperature rises and there is a long delay before any heat is transmitted to the interior space.

The key to understanding the benefit of thermal shielding is the variance between maximum and minimum temperatures inside the house, compared to the temperature extremes outside. By controlling the decrement delay, it is often possible to control and prevent the overheating of a building.

The ability to moderate the internal temperature of buildings is a contributory factor to human comfort. When this can be achieved by the selection of the right construction material rather than heating and air-conditioning, huge energy savings can be achieved over the lifetime of the building.

Clay Brick Association of South Africa
Tel: 011 805 4206

The Britten Pears Archive’s well-insulated walls of solid load-bearing brickwork to help moderate the temperature and relative humidity between the outside environment and the valuable materials within.