Ashden Winners

Max Fordham / Creating beautiful energy-efficient buildings

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Garfield Weston Foundation
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Buildings account for more than a third of the UK’s CO2 emissions and even new buildings don’t often achieve their intended energy efficiency level.

Max Fordham develops ‘passive’ designs, which maximise natural light and ventilation, and take advantage of the thermal properties of building materials. They also use the ‘soft landings’ approach, ensuring occupants understand how their building’s systems should be used. Through this, they have saved 2,800 tonnes of CO­2 annually.

2,800 tonnes of CO2 saved annually.

250,000 m2 of new and refurbished buildings designed.

50% cut in carbon emissions.

"Max Fordham doesn’t just work closely with architects to create beautiful buildings that have the highest standards of energy efficiency and are pleasant to work or live in; its focus on working with occupants to get the best out of their buildings is exemplary."

Ashden judging panel


Max Fordham has spent nearly 50 years developing sustainable building services, working closely with architects to create beautiful buildings with the highest standards of energy efficiency. The results are impressive: clients are able to cut their carbon emissions by up to 50% through increasing natural light and ventilation and installing energy-efficient equipment and insulation. The company has also pushed the concept of ‘soft landings’, working closely with occupants to make sure their new buildings work as efficiently as possible, and helping tackle what’s often a huge gap between the way buildings are designed and how they are actually used.

The Hive, Worcester is the first fully integrated university and public library in the UK.


Max Fordham has doubled in size in the past five years, with offices in Bristol, Cambridge, Edinburgh, London and Manchester. The partnership has worked on many thousands of buildings, some of which have achieved CO2 emissions as much as 50% lower than building regulations at the time required. In recent years, it has been involved in the design of about 250,000m2 of new and refurbished buildings each year, and at a conservative estimate of 15% energy saving, these buildings are saving 10 MWh of energy annually, or 2,800 tonnes of CO2.

Future plans

For the next few years Max Fordham is focusing on improving its engineer training programme and carrying out research, such as optimal insulation for heritage properties. It will also continue to publicise its work through the media and public events, encouraging others to follow its lead in making truly sustainable buildings the norm rather than the exception.

Since winning the award in 2015…

  • They have hired 11 more full-time employees and gained 99 more clients.
  • Total carbon emissions saved has increased by 10% from 28,125 tonnes to 30,397 tonnes.
The central atrium of the Hive.


Max Fordham is committed to the design of comfortable and sustainable buildings, and has a reputation for innovation and high quality design work. It has held an influential position in the industry for many years, and has been a significant contributor to the Soft Landings framework developed by the Building Services Research and Information Association (BSRIA).

Max Fordham is leading the sector in carrying out POEs, taking the results on board and publishing their findings. It has also developed a system to monitor the energy performance of completed buildings, and can identify risk factors for excessive energy use to help clients keep their bills under control. To ensure that it stays at the cutting edge of the building industry, Max Fordham sets aside a portion of its profits to fund ongoing research and also enables engineers to provide pro bono support to projects in developing countries.

‘Passive design’ and ‘soft landings’

The environmental engineering company Max Fordham, founded in 1966, focuses on the energy-efficient provision of lighting, ventilation and temperature control in new and refurbished buildings. It works with architects to develop ‘passive’ designs, which maximise use of daylight and natural ventilation, and take advantage of the thermal properties of building materials. Buildings designed this way are more likely to achieve low energy use, but Max Fordham does not rely on this – it also uses the ‘soft landings’ approach, ensuring occupants understand how their building’s systems are to be used. Post Occupancy Evaluation (POE) is then undertaken to measure energy use and find out how the occupants are using the building – further training can be provided, and the POE results are used to refine Max Fordham’s future building designs.

The way we approach the building is to work with the architects from day one, this allows a bottom up approach to bringing energy efficiency into buildings.

Dave Segall, Project Engineer, Max Fordham

Closing the performance gap

Ensuring that new buildings achieve their designed energy performance is essential if the UK is to reduce its CO2 emissions. Max Fordham’s approach to closing the performance gap includes the following tools.

Sustainability Matrix

This is a tool that lists key aspects of a building, such as energy consumption, airtightness, insulation and ventilation, and identifies options for a range of performance levels: minimum standard, best practice, innovative or pioneering. Ideally the content of the matrix comes from a workshop involving several client representatives, but it can also be used in a generic form if the budget is restricted. Its value is in laying out all the options and ensuring the design team understands the priorities of the client in terms of sustainability of their building. Max Fordham has published the Sustainability Matrix so that others can use it.

Energy Risk Register

This tool is used to identify risks that could increase a building’s energy use, ranging from procurement and commissioning to increased occupancy and choice of ICT equipment. For each risk, mitigation measures are set out, some of which are the responsibility of the design team or contractors, and some of which are for the building occupants to put in place. The goal is to ensure the contractors, building managers and occupants understand the energy consequences of constructing or using the building in a different way to that specified in the design brief.

Windows on the roof of the Hive.

Energy Tracker

Max Fordham have developed this software jointly with architects FCB Studios to record energy benchmarks, predictions and in-use data for all their future projects. The data gathered will help Max Fordham engineers refine their designs and predictions, and demonstrate the importance of working with occupants after they have moved into a building.

Post Occupancy Evaluation (POE)

An effective POE includes measurements of energy use and environmental variables such as noise level, light level, temperature and CO2 concentration, alongside surveys of building occupants and managers. This creates an opportunity to fine-tune the building controls to improve comfort and reduce energy use, to carry out further training for the building occupants and managers, and for the design team to improve their methods and predictions for future buildings.

Training and research

Rather than recruiting graduates from building services engineering courses, Max Fordham recruits from more general science and engineering subjects, then trains its graduates in-house. Training is delivered through working on live projects under the supervision of a mentor, and ensures the engineer understands the science behind their designs and has a breadth of knowledge and experience.

After four years at Max Fordham, engineers are eligible to become full partners, but their learning does not stop there – all staff work on a diverse range of buildings to keep expanding their skills, and there are also specific research and innovation projects to work on. Recent research projects to date include the pros and cons of district heating, greening cities and modelling building energy performance. There is also the opportunity to carry out pro bono work for projects in developing countries – Max Fordham covers 50% of the engineer’s wages when they choose to get involved in this work.

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