Here’s the challenge: Design a highly efficient solar-powered house from scratch, using materials that have NEVER been used before in residential construction. Then, figure out how to get it moved over to France for an international competition. This is the story of Techstyle Haus.
Techstyle Haus is a self-sustaining solar home built by students from Rhode Island School of Design, Brown University, and University of Applied Sciences Erfurt in Germany for the 2014 Solar Decathlon Europe. The competition, held in Versailles, France, challenged 20 collegiate teams from all over the world to build efficient, comfortable and sustainable solar homes. Each house was judged in ten different categories during the two-week competition. The Techstyle Haus team brought home a third place in Comfort Conditions and top ten scores in Communications & Social Awareness, House Functioning, and Energy Efficiency. They finished in 14th place overall. On the day I was there I was able to take an english-speaking tour with Gareth Rose, the sponsorship manager.
“The mission of this project,” said Rose, “was to build a sustainable home that is highly energy efficient, but build it in a completely different way. We wanted to use new materials and new methods to build this house to meet the passive house standard. An energy standard for construction that severely limits the amount of power you can use for heating and cooling the home.”
Techstyle Haus wore its futuristic design on its sleeve. Its gracefully curved exterior shell is made from a flexible textile material supported by steel structural ribs. The material by Saint-Gobain, called Sheerfill II Architectural Membrane, is generally used on the roofs of domed sports stadiums (every stadium used in World Cup this year) 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. The design enables Techstyle Haus to use up to 90 percent less energy for heating and cooling than a standard US house. It gets all the electricity it needs from two solar arrays specially designed to fit the house’s curved roof.
Everything about Techstyle Haus is designed to maximize efficiency and sustainability. Heat from appliances and occupants’ bodies is recycled to minimize the energy required the keep the house warm. When the outside temperature rises, phase-change materials in the house’s mechanical core change from solid to liquid, trapping unwanted heat in the process. When the temperature cools, the materials solidify, releasing that trapped heat to keep the house warm. Even greywater from sinks, showers and appliances is filtered and recycled to irrigate gardens that surround the house’s exterior walls. How does this work? Take a look at the Techstyle Haus video:
The interior design was also a big part of the project. The cabinets, bed frame, stools, glassware, and almost all the furniture was designed and made by the students.
With this prototype you are not limited to one configuration. You can use the methods and materials here for new prototypes. The idea of having a suspended cavity for insulation, or the Sheerfill shell – you could apply that to a building of any size or structure.
Techstyle Haus was a project nearly two years in the making. After developing a preliminary concept, the team was accepted into the competition in December of 2012. After refining their designs, engineering the house’s key systems, and enlisting sponsorships from companies all over the world (Kickstarter!), the team started construction in February 2014 in Providence. Stateside construction wrapped up in May. The house was then dismantled, shipped to France, and reassembled in Versailles for the competition.
“I’m very proud of our three-school partnership and the work that was done in collaboration with our students and our industry partners. We were able to produce something of incredibly high quality that was completely innovative,” said Jonathan Knowles, architecture associate professor and RISD project advisor on the Techstyle Haus. “The house also performed as expected, which was somewhat revolutionary. We created a new enclosure that’s never been done before that was able to perform with standard construction that was exhibited. I think this proves the power of collaborative, cross-disciplinary work. The four workshops we did really propelled the project forward; the fact that we had workshops between industry and academia pushed the design level to where it is.”
The students are currently dismantling Techstyle Haus once again in order to move it to its final destination. The house will provide student housing at Domaine de Boisbuchet, the site of annual interdisciplinary art and design workshops in Lessac, France. You can stay up-to-date with the rebuild and latest news by following Techstyle Haus on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. A big thank you to the team and Kristen Pelou for letting me use some of their own pictures from Flickr – mine were filled with lots of people and umbrellas, which completely distracted from the architecture.