Techstyle Haus: An 800 Square Foot Fabric House That Uses 90% Less Energy

The planters filter rainwater, which is then reused to grow edible plants. Photovoltaic panels are arrayed along the curved roof. Image © Kristen Pelou

The Rhode Island School Of Design, Brown University and the University of Applied Sciences Erfurt, Germany collaborated on a passive “fabric” house for the 2014 Solar Decathlon Europe (which just wrapped up this month – see the winners here). In the following article, originally published on Metropolis MagazineMartin Pedersen reviews the remarkable house.

This summer’s 2014 Solar Decathlon Europe is well underway in France, where a solar-powered village of twenty sustainable homes designed and built by college students from all over the country, has emerged on the grounds of the Palace of Versailles. Students from the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), Brown University, and the University of Applied Sciences Erfurt, Germany, have teamed up for Techstyle Haus, an 800-square-foot house that’s not only a model of energy efficiency but an elegant piece of design as well.

20 Teams to Compete in 2015 U.S. Solar Decathlon

2013: Wins Top Honors. Image © Jason Flakes/U.S. DOE Solar Decathlon

The U.S. Department of Energy has selected 20 collegiate teams to participate in the 2015 Solar Decathlon at Irvine, California’s Orange County Great Park. The eight returning teams will compete against 12 new teams, with partners from four international schools, to build “solar-powered, highly energy-efficient houses that combine affordability, innovation, and design excellence” within the allotted two-year period. View the full list of competitors, after the break.

Solar Decathlon 2013: SCI-Arc & Caltech Create California-style, Zero Net Energy Bungalow

© Paolo Tadoc /

DALE, short for Dynamic Augmented Living Environment, is this year’s U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon entry for the SCI-Arc/Caltech team. Made of two movable, prefabricated modules that open to allow the outdoors in, DALE celebrates the active California lifestyle through its dynamic architecture.

DALE learns from two classic precedents: the super-sized suburban tract home and the compact, sufficient bungalow; amending one and expanding on the other to become a new Southern typology. At 600 square feet, it is a micro house with an unprecedented flexible interior that results in the program of a house three times the size.

Solar Decathlon 2013: UNC Charlotte Wins “People’s Choice”

© Jason Flakes/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon

The people have spoken: ’s 2013 Solar Decathlon entry, UrbanEden has won the “People’s Choice Award.” Designed as an urban infill project for a couple in Charlotte, North Carolina, the net-zero solar-powered defines itself by establishing a strong indoor and outdoor connection in the middle of the city. By enclosing the back deck with a seven-foot tall vertical garden and integrating a high-performance glass wall along the ’s south side, dwellers are presented with the unlikely option of privately enjoying the outdoors within a dense urban context. 

Solar Decathlon 2013: Stanford University Places Fifth Overall, Ties First in Affordability

Courtesy of Start.Home – Solar Decathlon Team Stanford

From the architect. ’s Start.Home has won fifth place overall and tied for first place in affordability in the 2013 Solar Decathlon. Read the team’s description to learn more:

For the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2013, Stanford University designed to provide energy efficiency at the push of a button to a new generation of environmentally conscious occupants. With modular architecture and advanced controls to optimize each component, the house aims to spark a revolution by lowering the entry barrier for an ultra-efficient house and making sustainability trendy, social, and affordable.

Solar Decathlon 2013: Stevens Institute of Technology Places Second in Architecture, Fourth Overall

Courtesy of Jason Flakes / U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon

From the architect. This “L-shaped” energy smart house by the Stevens Institute of Technology (SIT), dubbed , won second place in the architecture category and fourth overall in this year’s Solar Decathlon competition. The L-concept divides the house into two modules, “wet” and “dry”. Read the team’s description to learn why:

Solar Decathlon 2013: Czech Technical University Wins Architecture Contest, Places Third Overall

© Jason Flakes/U.S. Department of Energy

Lauded for incorporating warm, natural wood finishes to create a “comfortable place to dwell and reenergize,” the jury of the 2013 Solar Decathlon has named as winner of the competition’s “Architecture Contest,” placing them third overall.

Based on a “house within a house” concept and inspired by the Czech tradition of spending weekends in the country, the “AIR House” features a flexible, open interior that is protected by an intelligent second skin – a “solar wooden canopy” that generates energy and provides hot water via photovoltaic and solar-thermal panels. Read for the team’s project description.

Solar Decathlon 2013: Team Las Vegas Places Second, Wins “Market Appeal”

© Jason Flakes/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon

From the architect. Placing second overall, just a few points behind the winning 2013 Solar Decathlon team, students from the University of Las Vegas () have won the “Market Appeal” contest at the Department of Energy’s (DOE) sixth solar-home competition. Known as “DesertSol”, the project was lauded for its “livability, marketability and constructability” as well as its “appeal within the housing market of the target client chosen by team.” It is designed to be a self-reliant, energy-efficient second home for upper-middle income Americans who pursue active lifestyles in the sparsely populated Mojave Desert. Read on for the team’s project description.

Solar Decathlon 2013: Team Austria Wins Top Honors

© Jason Flakes/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon

A team of Austrian students from Vienna University of Technology (Team ) has won top honors for “designing, building, and operating the most cost-effective, energy-efficient and attractive solar-powered house” at the 2013 U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Solar Decathlon. The net-positive home, known as “LISI – Living inspired by sustainable innovation,” prides itself for being a simple, smart house that is capable of adapting to a variety of lifestyles and climate zones.

Prior to being crowned as winner, LISI competed against eighteen other student-built, solar-powered homes over the course of ten days in Irvine, This was the first time an Austrian university has participated in the U.S. Solar Decathlon. Learn more about the winning design by reading the team’s project description after the break.

The Indicator: Why the Solar Decathlon Should Enter the Real World

Visitors tour the U.S. Department of Energy 2011 in Washington, D.C., Friday, Sept. 30, 2011, with Arlington, VA, left, and the Lincoln Memorial, right, in the background. Image © Stefano Paltera/U.S. Department of Energy

I don’t mean to poo poo the US Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon project, but the more I hear about it the more I wonder if this isn’t an indication of just how far behind the is in terms of energy policy and the design of smart environments. Are we really that far behind that we need a program like this to prove this stuff really works? Are people still disbelieving? Do they really need demonstration homes to show how photovoltaics produce electricity or how sustainable principles can be applied to architecture? I suppose it makes sense in a country that still obsesses about the Case Study Houses and has debates about climate change.

The purpose of the Solar Decathlon is primarily to educate the public on high-performance building practices. Since 2002 when the DOE held the first one, it’s been putting “green” building in front of people who otherwise would not get to experience it—or, in reality, a self-selecting population of people who are probably already into such things.

HALO: Swedish Students’ Solar Decathlon Entry

Courtesy of Team Sweden

Designed and built by 25 students from in Sweden, HALO is a socially sustainable home for four students, running on renewable energy from the sun. HALO was designed using one underlying concept: shared space is double space.

UOW Australia Wins the 2013 Solar Decathlon China

Courtesy of Team UOW

Team UOW from the University of Wollongong in has been awarded first place at the 2013 Solar Decathlon China, taking top honors for its net-zero, water-conserving design. Selected from 22 teams and 35 universities, Team UOW’s winning entry – the Illawarra Flame House – was the first retrofitted house ever to be submitted in decathlon history.

First Israeli Team to Compete in The Solar Decathlon

© Lior Avitan, Courtesy of Team

The Solar Decathlon, also called the “Olympics of Sustainable Architecture,” is a design competition that takes place biennially and challenges 20 collegiate teams to design, build, and operate solar-powered houses that are Net Zero Energy Buildings and are affordable, energy-efficient and attractive. The winner of the competition is the team that best blends cost-effectiveness, consumer appeal, and design excellence with optimal energy production and maximum efficiency.

Summer of 2013 will be the first year that a team from Israel will participate in this worldwide competition. Their hope was to develop and display a method of planning and design in which buildings could better respond to change, with the potential to be deconstructed, taken apart, modified and recycled. Values of environment, community, society and Israeli culture are all intertwined in a design that aims to raise awareness of these four elements and better incorporate them into Israeli architecture.

Read on for Team Israel’s Decathlon design.

Budapest Students Design Sustainable House for Indoor and Outdoor Living

© Balázs Danyi

It may look unassuming, but this sleek black box is the culmination of a two-year long collaboration of more than 50 students from 7 different faculties of the Budapest University of Technology and Economics. Initially envisioned by two architecture students and built for the European 2012 in Madrid, the goal of was to encourage a new sustainable life by designing a house where as much time as possible can be spent outdoors.

More information about Odooproject after the break…

Mark your calendars for the 2013 Solar Decathlon

WaterShed / - 2011 Architecture Winner

U.S. Department of Energy has announced the date and location of the 2013 Solar Decathlon. Appearing for the first time outside of Washington D.C., the highly anticipated competition will take place in 2013 from October 3rd through the 13th at the Orange County Great Park in Irvine, . Launched in 2002, the biennial event will challenge twenty collegiate teams to design, build and operate a solar-powered house that is cost-effective, energy-efficient and attractive. Participants are judged by their ability to blend affordability, consumer appeal and design excellence with optimal energy production and maximum efficiency.

Continue reading after the break for more information and the complete list of the 2013 teams.

Update: Meridian First Light House Places 3rd / Solar Decathlon

In keeping with our coverage of the Solar Decathlon, we are happy to share Victoria University’s Meridian First Light House third place finish.  Finishing a few point shy of the University of Maryland’s 951 points, the New Zealand university received 919 points with high standings in several categories, including winning the Engineering contest, gaining first equal in Hot Water and Energy Balance, second for Architecture and third for Market Appeal.     Plus, over the course of the competition, the house managed to produce more energy than it consumed –  achieving net zero energy consumption, despite 10 days of undesirable weather.   Team member Nick Officer exclaimed, “While we may not have won overall we are incredibly proud to have represented New Zealand on the world stage. We had such and amazing response from the US public here along with supporters back home.” Be sure to check out our previous coverage of the house to learn more about the traditional Kiwi bach – a New Zealand holiday home – inspired residence.

More photos of the residence after the break. 

Update: WaterShed Wins Architecture / Solar Decathlon

WaterShed /

Yesterday, we shared the news of  Empowerhouse’s win in the affordability contest - the first of ten contests comprising the Solar Decathlon.   The second contest, and one of the most prestigious of the competition, judges the projects’ architecture…and this year’s winner is the University of Maryland’s WaterShed.  Totaling 96 points, Maryland’s WaterShed surpassed New Zealand with 95 points and Appalachian State with 94 points.  Thus far, Maryland has had a strong showing at the competition as the residence has placed first overall for 4 out of the 5 competition days. “WaterShed achieves an elegant mix of inspiration, function, and simplicity. It takes our current greatest challenges in the built environment—energy and water—and transforms them into opportunities for spatial beauty and poetry while maintaining livability in every square inch,” said Architecture Contest Juror Michelle Kaufmann.

More about Maryland’s design after the break.  

Update: Empowerhouse Wins Affordability / Solar Decathlon

Continuing our coverage of the Solar Decathlon, the results of the competition’s newest category of affordability are in!  And, this year’s winner is Empowerhouse, a collaborative effort among students from Parsons The New School for Design, Milano School of International Affairs, Management and Urban Policy at The New School, and Stevens Institute of Technology.  Of the 19 participating teams, only Empowerhouse and Purdue University’s residence stayed under $250,000; yet, Empowerhouse achieved the lowest construction costs of all at $229,890 – roughly $20,000 less than Purdue.   The project was conceived as a prototype for affordable, net-zero housing as a way to make green technologies available for everyone.   Working closely with Habitat for Humanity of Washington, DC, and the DC Department of Housing and Community Development, the students have developed a scheme that can, and will be replicated, after the Decathlon.

More about the residence, including a video, after the break.