CHIP / SCI-Arch + CalTech / Solar Decathlon 2011


19 university teams from across the world are gearing up to make their way to Washington D.C. for the . Last week,we previewed the 19 designs and, by popular demand, today we’ll be sharing more info about + CalTech’s design. Entitled CHIP (short for Compacted Hyper-Insulated Prototype) the residence’s geometry is designed to respond to the sun’s orientation while wrapped in a sun performative envelope.
More about CHIP, including a video walk-through, after the break. 
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While all 19 entries into the competition certainly redefine the aesthetic of a residence, SCI-Arch and CalTech’s seems to take it a step further. At first glance, one is simply intrigued by the puffy material wrapping the geometric form; and yet, of course, the look functions beyond a mere aesthetic shock value. Constructed using low-cost billboard material fastened with zip ties, dowel rods, and lag screws, this vinyl-coated fabric mesh “turns conventional wisdom on its head, wearing its thermal performance on its sleeve.”


By separating the structural members from the insulation layer, and wrapping the insulation assembly in a flexible vinyl membrane, CHIP’s exterior envelope has an extremely high R-values necessary for a Net-Zero house, at a significantly reduced cost, all the while indexing this performance in its physical appearance.


In terms of massing, the form is tweaked and shaped to find the balance between an optimal roof angle for year-round solar energy collection, and a comfortable, vaulted interior space with a minimal footprint. On the interior, the slight change in level divides the house spatially without compartmentalizing.


Other technologies include a whole-house fan that performs a complete air change in less than 20 minutes, a custom iPad application that displays real-time energy use, controls the shades, and provides instant feedback and 3-D cameras that track movement in the house and adjust the lights accordingly.

We wish the team, and its 18 competitors, luck in the upcoming weeks. We can’t wait to see the built result!

Cite: Cilento, Karen. "CHIP / SCI-Arch + CalTech / Solar Decathlon 2011" 09 Sep 2011. ArchDaily. Accessed 30 May 2015. <>
  • Andrew

    First, this project looks really great…smart, rethinks enough of the prevailing paradigm of housing to work efficiently. Hope they win.

    Snarky comment: in the video, why do you need a wheelchair ramp in the sand?

  • Lesley Castle

    Congrats and good luck in the competition! Great project and fantastic team :) I’ve seen you all hard at work day in and night…a pat on the back, well done!