RISD Faculty Stories

Bookmark and Share

Designing Homes of the Future

07/17/2014

From the beginning, the challenge felt daunting: assemble a team of students to design a net-zero solar-powered house from scratch; ensure that the design is buildable, affordable, innovative and aesthetically pleasing; raise the funds needed to build a functional, full-scale prototype; and then figure out how to ship the entire house to France for an international competition. That’s the 2014 Solar Decathlon Europe in a nutshell – yet there’s so much more to the story.

“Solar Decathlon Europe has been an amazing experience,” notes Matt Osborn MArch 15, one of dozens of students from RISD, Brown and the University of Applied Sciences Erfurt in Germany who designed and built the house since the project team first got together in 2012. “It’s been a fabulous opportunity to work with some incredibly talented people and learn about design, construction and real-life project coordination.” 

Together, the Techstyle Haus team designed and built a curvaceous 800-sf house that generates enough solar energy to power everything a homeowner needs to live there. They raised more than $750,000 in corporate support for materials and related costs, and fabricated the modular structure in a way that would allow for efficient shipping to the competition site in France.

On Bastille Day – July 14 – the Solar Decathlon Europe wrapped up after a two-week public exhibition at the Cité du Soleil in Versailles, France, where an estimated 20,000 visitors had the opportunity to walk through each house, talk with student designers and really get a feel for the efficient, comfortable and sustainable solar homes of the future designed by 20 collegiate teams from around the world.

“Leading public tours has been an extremely rewarding experience,” notes Isby Lubin, a junior in Brown’s School of Engineering. “People have been pleasantly surprised by the acoustics and volume of the interior space. Few things have been more fulfilling than the offers by some of our visitors to move into our house.”

Unforgettable experience 
Ultimately, Decathlon judges rated each house in 10 different categories, with the Techstyle Haus earning a third place in Comfort Conditions and placing in the top 10 in Communications and Social Awareness, House Functioning and Energy Efficiency. The team finished 14th overall, with the top prize going to Rhome for Dencity, a house designed by students from Università degli Studi Roma Tre in Rome.

“I’m very proud of our three-school partnership and the work that was done in collaboration with our students and our industry partners,” notes Associate Professor of Architecture Jonathan Knowles BArch 84, the project lead who brought the three colleges together. “We were able to produce something of incredibly high quality that was completely innovative in terms of anything else that was built during the competition. I think this proves the power of collaborative, cross-disciplinary work.”

One of the key innovations the Techstyle Haus team introduced is an exterior shell made of Sheerfill II Architectural Membrane, which is found on the roofs of domed sports stadiums and airplane hangers but has never before been used in residential construction. The textile wall assembly combined highly efficient insulation with materials that resist fire and dampen sound, enabling Techstyle Haus to use up to 90 percent less energy for heating and cooling than a standard US house. And it gets all the electricity it needs from two solar arrays specially designed to hug the curved roofline.

“The past two years has been an incredible experience for me,” notes Kim Dupont-Madinier BArch 15. “At the age of 21 I was able to design, manage and build the home of my dreams with 35 incredible individuals who each made the collaborative and learning experience possible.”

After two intense weeks of competition and showcasing their creation to the public, students are now dismantling Techstyle Haus in order to move it to its final destination – at Domaine de Boisbuchet in Lessac, France, where it will provide housing for participants in the organization’s annual interdisciplinary art and design workshops. “I am excited that our home will end up at Boisbuchet,” Dupont-Madinier says, “and am looking forward to final construction of the most beautiful and functional textile home I have ever seen.”

“I’m delighted that [the house] will continue to inspire and turn heads at its permanent home,” adds Derek Stein, an associate professor of physics and engineering at Brown and a faculty advisor for the project. “More importantly, Techstyle Haus has built a cohort of students who understand how to improve the housing sector. I hope that many will choose to design sustainable housing, develop energy-efficient building materials or push for stricter building codes.”

Ultimately, that’s largely the impetus behind the US Department of Energy’s sponsorship of the Solar Decathlon competitions: to get the next generation of design thinkers and leaders committed to alternative energy. And based on the enthusiasm of the students from around the world who came together to show their best at the Cité du Soleil, the future is looking brighter already.

“My passion has always been in building and making, and that drove my initial impulse to join the project,” sums up Sina Almassi MArch 16. “But I could never have anticipated the immense learning experience it turned out to be. We’ve been lucky to work with so many talented people and many of the leaders of their respective fields,” he adds. “I can’t imagine any venue in which so many smart minds can come together and create something so ambitious and innovative. It’s been an absolute blast and an amazing opportunity and privilege to be part of this.”

related links:

 


tags: academic collaborations, Architecture, alumni, Brown, collaborations, faculty, global, Graduate Studies, innovation, interdisciplinary, partnerships + collaborations, public engagement, research, social responsibility, STEAM, students

3
Foundation Studies students consider each other's work under the guidance of Professor Merlin Szasz.