New York-based Dennis Wedlick Architect [DWA] used to be known for crafting finely detailed custom homes in rural locations and creative loft conversions in the urban environment. The 20-year firm is still known for such work, but today it is increasingly associated with the German-based high performance building standard known as “Passive House.”

“We now use Passive House principles on every project we do,” Wedlick says, whose early training included a 12-year stint in the office of the late architect Philip Johnson. “We don’t necessarily aspire to Passive House certification or pursue the perfect formula, but it’s about applying the principles and the building science.”

Wedlick started his firm in 1992 with little more than a dream and a credit card—two credit cards, actually. Columbia County, N.Y., is “where he built a 1,000-square-foot country house for himself and his partner, Curtis DeVito,” we wrote in our 2001 profile of the architect. The profile continues, “He and DeVito maxed out their credit cards to build the house, convinced it was absolutely necessary to launch Wedlick's solo career. A shrewd decision. It lead to media coverage and a continuing stream of commissions in Columbia County.”

Since that time, the firm has gone from a sole practitioner to about 15 architecture, interior design, and landscape professionals. Residential work remains the mainstay of the office. “We’re fairly unique in that we didn’t go from small houses to large commercial buildings,” Wedlick explains. “We like the small projects. Residential is fairly more diverse because you have patrons who want to innovate and experiment with architecture.”

DWA’s body of work consists of 40 percent urban commissions (including lofts, townhomes, and small studios for residential clients), 40 percent rural projects (farms and vacation homes), and 20 percent miscellaneous buildings such as small commercial projects, work for Habitat for Humanity, and other structures. At the moment, the firm is in the design phase of a transformer recycling facility in the Hudson Valley.

Unlike most firms that start to dabble in other areas such as furniture and industrial design, design/build, or graphics, DWA remains committed to small custom homes of the highest order. The only difference is that the homes are high performance. The Passive House direction, Wedlick says, is part of his office’s continuing education to make structures better and it’s a practice he hopes all architects and builders adopt.

“The standard is quite amazing,” he says. He explains that the firm always used basic common sense techniques from architecture school such as orientation, passive solar, using the wind, and proper vegetation—“Architecture 101”, he calls it—but his team started exploring Passive House techniques in 2007.

“We were doing the basics of architecture,” he says. “I didn’t know that what I was looking at was green architecture.” But it wasn’t high performance architecture. “Now we build high performance homes. They are still beautifully crafted and well detailed, but now we know building science.” Wedlick continues, “It’s about controlling the indoor with better building enclosures and building science.”

The Passive House concept, which originated in Germany, entails lowering heating loads by up to 90 percent through a rigorous set of steps that includes passive solar design, superinsulation, high-performance windows, and carefully calculated thermal bridging. DWA completed the Hudson Passive Project—the firm’s first such house—in late 2010. Nestled on a rural site in Claverack, N.Y., the 1,650-square-foot timber-frame house features SIP walls and ceilings, triple-paned windows, and stone cladding. Today, the firm has several Passive House projects in various stages of design, construction, and completion.

Passive House is the future, Wedlick says. It’s a standard that results in buildings that use less energy and homes that are better for the environment and the owners. “When you don’t know, you don’t know. But now we know,” Wedlick says.

Firm Specs:

Years in practice: 20 | Currently active projects: 14 | Projects completed in 2011: 8 | Firm size: 20 | Areas of interest: Custom residential homes; Passive House consulting; and research and redevelopment in infill housing

Dennis Wedlick Architect Retrospective