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Techstyle Haus in the Making

Techstyle Haus in the Making

As the Techstyle Haus team – a cross-disciplinary group of students and advisors from RISD, Brown and Germany’s University of Applied Sciences Erfurt (FHE) – readies their design for the 2014 Solar Decathlon Europe, a subset of the group is in Paris presenting the project at the US Embassy. “We arranged the visit through RI Senator Sheldon Whitehouse’s office, and the Embassy sponsored a presentation and cocktail reception for the two American teams participating in the competition,” says project leader and RISD Associate Professor of Architecture Jonathan Knowles. The international competition, which takes place next July in Versailles, France, challenges 20 teams of college students to design and build cost-effective sustainable homes powered solely by solar energy.

Knowles and his colleagues have had ample opportunity to polish their French skills in recent months. Over the summer, Landscape Architecture Department Head Scheri Fultineer was among the team members who traveled to the Domaine de Boisbuchet, a private estate in Lessac, France, to determine exactly where the Techstyle Haus will be permanently ensconced after the competition. An apple orchard appears to offer the ideal location for the textiles-based building, which will serve as a student dormitory for the estate’s annual summer design conference. During an eight-week summer workshop focused on material exploration, the team refined the design begun earlier in the year, adding a sloping roof that will provide visual continuity with the rolling hills just beyond the apple orchard.

“That was another very successful trip,” says Knowles. “We took the design over to show our sponsor [sustainable developer Saint-Gobain] and the people at Boisbuchet, and everyone was really enthusiastic.” The project drew accolades across the board, along with quite a bit of publicity, with articles in several local newspapers and a report on French television.

This semester students in five RISD classes are honing all aspects of the design, with Knowles teaching or co-teaching three of the classes: a Landscape Architecture seminar (co-taught by Interim Dean of Fine Arts Anais Missakian 84 TX and Dean of Architecture + Design Pradeep Sharma) to review septic and other technical requirements, an advanced studio in preparation for the competition itself and an Integrated Building Systems seminar focused on completing the required technical drawings. In addition, students in a course taught by Associate Professor of Interior Architecture Peter Yeadon are devising a lighting system for the house using photo-luminescent materials, and Assistant Professor of Furniture Design Peter Dean is leading a studio in which students are creating custom furniture for the house.

Team fundraisers are also continuing to make strides in the formidable task of raising the $700,000 needed to complete and present Techstyle Haus next summer. They’ve recently lined up a number of substantial financial contributions as well as donated building supplies from such companies as Pazen, Schneider Electric and Home Depot.

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