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Envisioning a Renewable Future

05/24/2013

A cross-disciplinary group of students from RISD, Brown and the University of Applied Sciences Erfurt in Germany (FHE) – known as Team Inside Out – has been selected as one of 20 international teams to compete in the 2014 Solar Decathlon Europe in Versailles, France.

After being selected in early 2013, each of the teams has been given 18 months in which to conceptualize, design and build an energy-efficient, solar-powered structure. The focus of the 2014 competition, says Associate Professor of Architecture Jonathan Knowles, is on urban impact – designing a building that can be realized as part of a larger aggregate rather than a single unit.

“There is no other project where students can realize their physical ambitions so directly,” says Knowles, who is leading the team and was co-director of the project the last time RISD competed in a Solar Decathlon – the 2005 contest sponsored by the US Department of Energy. “Innovation is one of the major benchmarks of the European competition,” he says, which makes it more appealing to the RISD/Brown/FEH partnership. 

The winning proposal from Team Inside Out is a textiles-based house – with woven exterior walls. The team is hoping to create the structure with materials provided by Saint-Gobain, a French insulation and glass company that is sponsoring the project as a means of experimenting with its fabric exterior membrane. According to their proposal, the team intends to “create a next-generation home based on operations of folding, twisting and turning, a process that will serve the principles of modularization and aggregation to create sustainable benefits on an urban scale.”

Regardless of whether Team Inside Out takes first place, the house it builds is already guaranteed permanent recognition. After being built in Germany and transported to Versailles for judging, it will be moved to Domaine de Boisbuchet, a 400-acre cultural institution in France that is home to the Vitra Design Museum and the site of a noted international design conference held each summer.

Because of the many moving parts involved in this project, the planning team has been subdivided into three groups: communications, sponsorship and project management. RISD students Kim Dupont-Madinier BArch 15, Zachary Futterer MArch 14 and Jason Askew MArch 14 are leading these divisions on campus and facilitating collaboration among the wide range of students from various departments – including Architecture, Interior Architecture, FAV, Furniture Design and Textiles – who are contributing ideas.

Futterer, head of the management group, notes that the team’s Wintersession work in Germany this year was just what was needed to get the project off to a strong start. “It was a great opportunity for us to learn from each other,” he says. “My job is to make sure that everyone is communicating well – to carry through the mission of the team. It’s the first time I’ve started seeing myself as a leader. I’m already learning practical life skills that I’ll carry with me long after this project is completed.”

Dupont-Madinier, who is focusing on sponsorship, concurs, describing the Solar Decathlon project as “the most valuable experience I’ve ever had in understanding process and working with people from different backgrounds, with different approaches to solving problems. So much can be lost in translation,” she adds, “so learning how to communicate well is the key.”

RISD students have already traveled to Germany twice – once during Wintersession and again during spring break – to develop plans for their textiles house, which will continue to evolve over the summer. Students will refine the design through a series of fall studios and classes at RISD, Brown and FHE, with construction slated to begin in January.

Of course, the team is also facing another very real challenge beyond design – raising the $700,000 needed to complete the project. So far, they’ve raised about half of that amount through sponsors and intend to continue fundraising while the design takes shape.

Simone Solondz

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tags: academic collaborations, Architecture, Brown, global, interdisciplinary, sustainability

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