Chapter #1: Designing a sustainable home
Nowadays the environmentally-friendly lifestyle and sustainable design are getting more and more popular. By using the new technologies we can save money long term, and by reducing carbon emissions we can protect our environment. As we walk on the streets, from time to time new solar panels appear on the roofs, people who want to build their homes choose more often passive houses, and sustainable architecture plays a major role in education, as well.
In the last decade, the Solar Decathlon international innovational contest has been providing the prime of the European and American universities many possibilities to clash their talent and knowledge in the field of green architecture.
According to the competition’s rules, the applying teams have to design – and the best, to build – an energy efficient, environmentally-conscious light-structured residential building, and the realization has to be supported by members of the building industry. This year’s, Madrid-centered contest is the first one to see a Hungarian team, which -from 50 applicants- got into the group of the 20 best teams, thus it won the chance to go to Madrid and actually build the house. The team of circa seventy students of the Budapest University of Technology and Economics (BUTE) is made up of representatives of all of the faculties of the university: there are architectural, civil, mechanical, electrical, chemical, and mechatronics engineer, economist and communications students, they jointly design every tiny part of the project which was named Odoo (the word itself means burrow in Hungarian).
The contesting buildings of the teams will be judged by ten criteria: architectural and engineering quality, construction, energy efficiency, power balance, comfort, energy-efficient home appliances, communications and social responsibility, industrial feasibility and commercial viability, innovation, and last but not least, sustainability.
Designing the Odoo
However, the creation of sustainable buildings doesn’t begin with the solar panels.
A building would be called sustainable if it causes the less changes in its environment and saves the most energy possible, during its existence. Keeping this principle in mind we can make decisions serving sustainability in the earliest stage of designing. The orientation, the geometry of the building, the placement of the transparent surfaces, all these decisions already determine the passive energy profits of the house, in the beginning of architectural planning. We must aim for the best possible use of both active and passive solar energy, and minimize the energy losses
We followed these basic principles during the design of Odoo, the motto of the design was “be sustainable” and that was followed by all the other aspects.
The initial idea of the planning based on a simple stastistical number: 95%. Statistics show that people living in western countries spend 95% of their time in indoor conditioned spaces. This piece of data in itself raises several questions about our current way of life. Just think about the crowded parks, playgrounds, open-air pubs in the summer, people like being and socializing outside, but our buildings don’t provide facilities, such as comfortable and functional circumstances. We wanted to design a house, where we can spend as much time under the open sky as possible, and integrate the outside world to our everyday life. We didn’t have to search too much, or go too far to find an example: the traditional Hungarian lifestyle served as inspiration for the design process. In the winter Hungarian people lived in small houses which were cheaper to build, and easier to heat, but in the summer they lived under the open sky when the weather permitted, a typical element of housing was the summer kitchen where they could cook, without warming up the whole house.
The Odoo is a design concept to create a new type of living space which combines the benefits of traditional Hungarian lifestyle and modern, contemporary comfort conditions using the advances of modern technology and answering the question on sustainable housing.
The geometry of the house has been developed in a way that both the passive and the active energy profits would be maximal, the solar panels would be integrated to the architectural character, and the whole shape of the building has an easily recognizable character. However, at the same time we mustn’t forget that this is a contest project above all, so, according to the requirements, it has to be a pavilion which is able to host visitors during the competition.
The house can be divided into three main parts: the center is the huge terrace which is embraced by the small compact living block, and, on the southern side, a solitaire wall – the summer wall, as we call it.
The bathroom, the kitchen and the mechanical room can be found assorted in one group in the living block, aside from these the rest of the space can be organized freely with parts functioning as bedrooms, living rooms, dining rooms or bureaus. This main part of the building is connected with the terrace by glass which runs through almost the whole of the wall surface, and because of the sliding doors, the connection with the terrace is quite intensive; the pouring light illuminates the inner space and in winter time it produces significant solar profit. The majority of the solar panels can be found on top of this part of the building, this is the main, active energy-producing unit, which works best in the summer period with its 6° hang.
It would be pointless the talk about the terrace and the summer wall separately, as the form an organic whole. We can do all the activities on the terrace that we can do in the inner house, because the terrace part of the summer wall contains built-in furniture, a cooking plate, a washing machine, a writing desk and power source, so, together with the wall it works as a massive dining-living-room-kitchen with fresh air, sunshine or, if one demands it shade, produced by a horizontal sunsail. The indoor furniture can be moved outside to the terrace easily, but some pieces of the so called “Paqchairs” (designed by Géza Csire) can be stored inside the summer wall. The Paqchair is a mattress in its basic form, but it can be folded into an armchair in seconds. The summer wall hides mechanical equipments as well, and its outer side is covered by vertical solar panels, this produces solar energy mainly in times of winter, when the sun’s altitude is lower.
We selected ceramics for the floor coverage of the closed part of the house, colored in light gray, the color doesn’t dazzle the eyes and the material is ideal in taking in the passive heat profit coming through the doors and windows. The walls have wooden coverage with a slightly transparent white coloration, so that the veins of the wood would show through nicely. Wood emits a more homey and warm sensation then neutral homogenous white walls, but the plain wooden coverage is a bit unusual for the Hungarian eye, so we tried to reach a healthy balance in this matter.
The ceiling is a cooling surface at the same time, and because of this a fake ceiling and what is more, because of the noise produced by the previous activity, an acoustic fake ceiling was needed. The white MDF slabs fit the also white wall coverage well, and the material has a good heat transmission capability. We sank the lighting in the fake ceiling, which can be adjusted in many ways; we can set the lights according to our current mood.
On the terrace side of the summer wall we can find the white coverage earlier seen on the inner walls, and the ceramic tiles floor coverage of the terrace fits the interior as well.
In the next chapter, we will present the previously partially covered technological solutions, and the structural curiosities of the house.
Adrián Auth and Balázs Szelecsényi