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Fabric solar house competes at Versailles

Case Studies, Features | December 1, 2014 | By:

This summer, one of the most lavish residences in the world was home to some of the most unique and sustainable dwellings imaginable when the Palace of Versailles hosted the 2014 Solar Decathlon Europe, a showcase of 20 solar-powered homes built by college students from around the globe.

Among the entries was Techstyle Haus, which featured a roof and walls built almost entirely of durable, high-performance textiles. The Techstyle Haus team was made up of students from the Rhode Island School of Design, Brown University and the University of Applied Sciences Erfurt in Germany.

After refining their designs, engineering the house’s key systems, and enlisting sponsorships from companies all over the world, the team started construction in February 2014.

Pvilion, a New York City-based company that designs, manufactures, and installs flexible high-performance solar systems, contributed PV consulting and a considerable discount on its flexible solar array. Birdair Inc. donated equipment and provided tensile structure consulting. Saint-Gobain, a primary cash sponsor, donated insulation, fabrics, window glass, and communications consulting.

The 800-square-foot dwelling’s outer shell is made of Saint-Gobain’s Sheerfill® II Architectural Membrane with EverClean® Photocatalytic Topcoat, a flexible fiberglass material often used for the roofs of domed stadiums. Support comes from three structural wooden ribs.

The house uses 90 percent less energy for heating and cooling than a standard house, achieving the Passive House Standard. The textile wall assembly combines highly efficient insulation with materials that resist fire and dampen sound. The plumbing, heating and cooling systems, all contained in a compact mechanical core, run on the power it would take to operate a hair dryer.

Bruce N. Wright, AIA, the former editor of Fabric Architecture magazine, is a writer and editor and consultant to architects, engineers and graphic designers.

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