Team unveils unique fabric solar house

Jun 30, 2014
Photo of the Solar Decathlon site at dusk.

Students from Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), Brown University and the University of Applied Sciences Erfurt, Germany, have been hard at work for nearly two years designing and building their one-of-a-kind entry for the 2014 Solar Decathlon Europe—and the time has come to show their work to the world.

From June 28 through July 14, the grounds of France's Palace of Versailles will be transformed into a solar-powered village, showcasing 20 sustainable homes built by college students from around the globe. Among them will be a house like no other—Techstyle Haus—with a roof and walls made not of wood or metal but almost entirely of durable, high-performance textiles.

The team – officially called "Team Inside/Out" in the competition – spent the spring semester in Providence constructing the home's structural supports, attaching its signature textile shell and adding the that will provide all the power the house needs – and then some. After determining that everything was in working order, the team carefully disassembled the house, packed it into five , and shipped it across the Atlantic, where the teams had 10 days to build their houses on site before judging formally opens on June 28.

Students from Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), Brown University and the University of Applied Sciences Erfurt, Germany, have been hard at work for nearly two years designing and building their one-of-a-kind entry for the 2014 Solar Decathlon Europe—and the time has come to show their work to the world.

Photo of interior work, including preparing for insulation and windows, at the Solar Decathlon site.

From June 28 through July 14, the grounds of France's Palace of Versailles will be transformed into a solar-powered village, showcasing 20 sustainable homes built by from around the globe. Among them will be a house like no other—Techstyle Haus—with a roof and walls made not of wood or metal but almost entirely of durable, high-performance textiles.

The team – officially called "Team Inside/Out" in the competition – spent the spring semester in Providence constructing the home's structural supports, attaching its signature textile shell and adding the flexible that will provide all the power the house needs – and then some. After determining that everything was in working order, the team carefully disassembled the house, packed it into five shipping containers, and shipped it across the Atlantic, where the teams had 10 days to build their houses on site before judging formally opens on June 28.

And while all of this work is being done for a good showing at the competition, the students are well aware of the bigger picture. The ultimate aim of the event is to spread the word about clean energy and sustainable living. Thousands of people are expected to attend and tour the homes, and with that, the team is hoping to change the way people think about building materials and inspire them to push the limits of architecture, design, and engineering.

Exterior rendering of Techstyle Haus, looking down at the southern deck.

They're even thinking about the structure's life after Versailles. After the competition, the team will bring the house to Domaine de Boisbuchet, the site of annual interdisciplinary art and design workshops, to act as student housing. In doing so, they will use Techstyle Haus to promote the practice of sustainable living to future generations and serve as a model for a new type of living that works with all aspects of environment. The house will continue to be monitored by the team so that future iterations can be improved.

"This project has been a great opportunity for us to reconsider how we think about energy efficiency and the play between function and form," said Helen Bergstrom, a chemical engineering student at Brown University and project engineer. "It has been amazing to see how efficiency optimization can be used to create a structure that is seamless, elegant, and comfortable. If someone had told me two years ago that students could design and build a home out of fabric that produces over 50 percent more energy than it uses I would not have believed it. I think we have all surprised ourselves and our communities."

Explore further: Sun rises on solar panels on White House roof

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