Solar Decathlon Europe / Part 1

September 20, 2012

The renewable energy sector officially lives in a time warp. The second edition of the European Solar Decathlon, on show in Madrid, features 19 energy efficient houses that generate their own power. Disappointing though that they do so with superseded technologies. The competition, however, is a great initiative for raising awareness on the need to consume less natural resources and reduce waste generation, and the houses, designed by universities from around the globe, are a good example of efficient design.

What would I have expected? I guess to find examples of truly efficient electricity generation. Solar power is fine but we know it has a very low efficiency rate -10%- and there is a lack of facilities to store it, that's why it has to go hand in hand with the traditional power grid. Not really a breakthrough. I would have loved to see electricity being generated from electromagnetic radiation or via nano materials for instance. A type of energy that is easier to generate and can exist without the grid. There are plenty of institutes and independent researchers exploring the matter and achieving excellent results. Regarding new building materials, what about "atomic" ones such as graphene-based structures, metabolic materials or printed ones? Aren't these more XXI century than timber, paper or glass?

Back to the Villa Solar in Madrid where the Solar Decathlon competition is taking place, the 19 houses are being monitored and will get a score on 10 aspects, ranging from energy efficiency to innovation and functionality. 

The Counter Entropy House from the RWTH Aachen is a project that stands out despite its conservative looks. It has an open floor plan enclosed by cores and a retractable glazing. The oversailing roof carries a curtain to the South and West edges. At the time of my visit the glazing was open and the curtain semi-closed and this created a lovely breeze and shade inside the house. The house is partly made with reused materials: the cladding panels are de-coated and melted CDs, the lamps are bicycle wheels wrapped with tracing paper and the furniture is made with cutouts from timber boards held together with a film. The house control panel, developed by one of the students, gets projected on a table surface. A sensor opposite the user recognizes the commands in the arm movements going towards the projected buttons. The system works with the user's arm movements not with the projection on the table, which has no other function than to help the user memorize the movements.

Counter Entropy House
Counter Entropy House: facade panel made with melted CDs
Counter Entropy House: lamp projecting house control panel on the table below
Counter Entropy House: house control panel projected on table surface and monitored by hand movements
The Para Eco-House by the Chinese Tongji University is a small compact volume protected by an outer lattice skin. The house is mainly made with bamboo, uses vacuum insulated panels (VIP) for the walls and has a mist spray system in the terrace. Possibly its most interesting feature is the Western outer wall: a web of differently-sized openings filled with plants and solar cells.

Para Eco-House West wall
Para Eco-House inner West wall
Para Eco-House outer West Wall PV panel

ECO House by the Universitat Politecnica de Catalunya in Spain is a simple construction with great features. It is a lightweight structure clad with corrugated plastic. The rooms are independent timber cubes with exposed plugged-in services. The house uses different types of water: regular tap water, rain and on-site treated grey water. The user decides, depending on function, which one to use. The air cooling is equally interesting. Cold air is pumped from an outdoor, insulated box full with gravel. The box lid opens at night until the gravel cools down, then closes to preserve the low temperature. Sadly, the ventilation system seemed undersized since despite high ceilings and roof opening vents, the temperature in the house was uncomfortably high. Possibly the corrugated plastic skin wasn't helping. 

 Eco House water treatment plant
Eco House interior
Eco House water connection types to the bathroom
Eco House: cooling system with gravel

I got excited to see a rice paddy in front of the Omotenasi House by the Japanese Chiba University and assumed that it was irrigated with grey water but it wasn't. Still, a great idea to grow your own food at home. In this regard, the house has also cultivation screens and a plant factory that uses fiber optics for rapid plant growth. The traditional-looking roof is made with photovoltaic tiles and produces 1.7 times more electricity than a regular PV system. The dark panels in front of the house are for water heating.

The Odoo House by the Budapest University of Technology and Economics has the most striking outdoor space. Allegedly based on Hungarian traditions, the East-West oriented open space is enclosed to the South by a "summer wall"  that includes an outdoor kitchen and a furniture storage that turns into a lounging area. The wall is clad with PV panels to its South face.
Odoo House: Summer Wall South face PV panels
Odoo House: Summer Wall inner face with outdoor kitchen

Other projects include the Canopea House from the Ecole National Supérieure d'Architecture de Grenoble, France.

CEM' House (Casas em Movimento) by the Universidade do Porto, Portugal.

Fold House, Technical University of Denmark.

Ekihouse by the Universidad del País Vasco, Spain.

Check the following post Solar Decathlon Europe / Part 2 to learn about the winners.

Solar Decathlon Europe 2012 #sde12 / Madrid, 14 - 30 September 2012

Counter Entropy House by the RWTH Aachen / Germany
Area:    49.1 m2
Est. energy production:     8,886.6 kWh / year
Est. energy consumption:  6,365 kWh / y
Est. cost:  €542,000

Para Eco-House by the Tongji University / China
Area:    128 m2
Est. energy production:   15,857 kWh / year
Est. energy consumption:  4,273 kWh / y
Est. cost:  €287,000

(E)CO House by Universitat Politecnica de Catalunya / Spain
Area:    150 m2
Est. energy production:     5,900 kWh / year
Est. energy consumption:  4,222 kWh / y
Est. cost:  €150,000

Omotenashi House by the Chiba University / Japan
Area:    54.38 m2
Est. energy production:   13,374 kWh / year
Est. energy consumption:  8,302 kWh / y
Est. cost:  €500,000

Photos by PS

Milan Design Week 2012

May 23, 2012

The 2012 edition of the Milan Design Week has seen a shift in the manufacturing processes. 3D printing, open-source software and crowd-funding are emerging as alternatives to traditional furniture production. There were beautiful 3D printed designs and DIY machines that could morph soft materials into improbable shapes. More on this in my Milan Furniture Fair Coverage for Inhabitat.com at the bottom of this page.

Vitra at the Salone. 

Via Tortona, Established & Sons

Via Tortona, Heineken Club

Wonderful spaces

3D printing

The Salone

Ventura Lambrate

51st Salone Internazionale del Mobile, Milan 17-22 April 2012 | #SaloneDelMobile

2012 Milan Furniture Fair Coverage for Inhabitat, by PS

Pictures by PS

ARCOmadrid 2012 & 2013 Prospect

February 24, 2012
Nuria Mora for El País

Lighthearted, colourful and fresh. ARCO 2012 has been a delightful edition with more galleries than last year and mainly recent works.

This makes you wonder about two things: the current state of the art market and the profile of the target buyer. Galleries loaded with new works from youngish artists means to me sold-out stocks and high sales expectancy. And this can only translate as art market doing well. The target buyer was presumably international since the art works were too new (read risky) for the generally conservative local collector. Proof of this is that interesting young Spanish artists have been brought by non-Spanish galleries.

Very conspicuous at this ARCO edition has been the role of architects, cities and even architecture. Firstly, there were many trained or self-proclaimed architects among the artists (Tomás Saraceno, Ai Weiwei, José Dávila...) and supporters (see video of Norman Foster below). Then, the trending topic seemed to turn around buildings and coloured shapes, not so much so around a social message. Perhaps the life-size sculpture of General Franco in a Cola fridge was meant to be the exception... but no one perceived it as such.

The most interesting spaces for different reasons were El País and Ivorypress. El País has chosen this year to explore the Spanish street art and has invited Nuria Mora, 3ttman and Suso33 among others to perform site installations. The result was a colourful and lively space, more sensual than intellectual and very distanced from the sarcasm generally used by street art elsewhere.

Papiroflexia by Nuria Mora, 3TTMAN and Trojan TV Wall by Suso33

Ivorypress, the gallery owned by Norman Foster's wife Elena Ochoa and at Arco for the first time, has set a wonderfully different tone. It has brought amazing names (Anish Kapoor, Anthony Caro, Ai Weiwei...) and obviously great works. Possibly the most distinguished work was "Cuarteto Rebelde" a bespoke piece by Los Carpinteros, the Cuban art collective with studio in Madrid next door to Ivorypress. The most striking work for me though was a 2011 video installation by Michal Rovner. Sadly, no pictures.

Pillars, 2006 by Ai Weiwei. Work behind by Pedro Cabrita Reis

This is what I meant by the conspicuous role of architects, cities and architecture...

2011 by Tomás Saraceno
Philip Johnson Glass House, 2009 by James Welling
Lost Year's Words, 2011 by Raúl Hevia
Aerial, 2011 by Sachigusa Yasuda

Interesting the project Desert Cities (2007-09) by Aglaia Konrad. An exploration of city growth in Egypt.

The colourful part

Kuckei+Kuckei Gallery

Bärbel Grässlin & Heinrich Ehrhardt Galleries

Great works at Project B Gallery, Milan: Dionisio González (also at Ivorypress), Giada Ripa and Greta Alfaro.

Fall on us, 2011 by Greta Alfaro

Fall On Us, And Hide Us (excerpt) from greta alfaro on Vimeo.

Cinthya Soto for Galeria Des Pacio, Costa Rica.

Secundino Hernández widely represented at Arco. Below Wimbledon, 2011

Same for Juán Asensio. Below Untitled, 2012, for Galeria Elvira González.

Untitled, 2011 by Julian Schnabel at Galeria Soledad Lorenzo.

Installation by YlvaOgland. Hoet-Bekaert Gallery.

And a tribute by Galerie Lelong to the great Antoni Tapies who passed away a few weeks ago. Jannis Kounellis in the background.

ArcoKids has been a first time initiative in collaboration with the Pequeño Deseo Foundation. A space where groups of kids have created a joint work under the guidance of artists.
Picture by Alda Rojo  

Suggestions for Next Edition
ARCO director Carlos Urroz has done a superb job in turning ARCO into a fun and lively event. The lightness of this year's edition felt just about right as a counter-balance to the gloomy scenario out there. But you wonder if this complacent art can hold in the long run. With 23% unemployment and 22% of the population living below the poverty line, Spain is on the verge of collapse. It would be responsible, nonetheless empathetic, to pick up on this. And not merely to document it but to interact with reality possibly by giving individuals a voice. As Glenn Lowry, director of MoMA, quotes: "The current social circumstances dictate new forms of art". It would be a shame not to use this extraordinary opportunity and the power of art to try and move to a different place. 

ARCO International Contemporary Art Fair, Madrid 15 - 19 February 2012

Michal Rovner
Tomás Saraceno
Greta Alfaro
Nuria Mora
Antoni Tapies 
Aglaia Konrad
Julian Schnabel
Secundino Hernández
JR and his Inside Out Project

Ivorypress Madrid
Project B Gallery Milan
Galerie Bärbel Grässlin Frankfurt
Galería Heinrich Ehrhardt Madrid

Pictures by PS unless stated otherwise

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