June 27, 2014

Techstyle Haus: a one-of-a-kind fabric solar house

Rhode Island School of Design (RISD)
David O’Connor, Techstyle Haus, 2014. Courtesy of Rhode Island School of Design.

Students from Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), Brown University and the University of Applied Sciences Erfurt, Germany have been hard at work for nearly two years designing and building their one-of-a-kind entry for the 2014 Solar Decathlon Europe—and the time has come to show their work to the world.

This summer, from June 28 through July 14, the grounds of France’s Palace of Versailles will be transformed into a solar-powered village, showcasing 20 sustainable homes built by college students from around the globe. Among them will be a house like no other, Techstyle Haus, with a roof and walls made not of wood or metal, but almost entirely of durable, high-performance textiles.

The team spent the spring semester in Providence, RI, constructing the home’s structural supports, attaching its signature textile shell and adding the flexible solar panels that will provide all the power the house needs and more. The team then carefully disassembled the house, packed it into shipping containers, and sent it across the Atlantic, where teams had ten days to build their houses on site before judging formally opens.

Designing and constructing a highly efficient solar home with textiles is no simple task, and the team set the bar high. To reach the Passive House Standard—one that uses 90% less energy for heating and cooling than a standard house—the house’s innovative textile wall assembly required a design that combined highly efficient insulation with materials that resist fire and dampen sound. The plumbing, heating and cooling systems, placed in a compact mechanical core, are the picture of efficiency, running on the power it would take to operate a hair dryer. Solar photovoltaic cells and solar thermal units are used to harness energy. The photovoltaic array covering the curved surfaces is innovative, lightweight, flexible and efficient—the curvature of which helps to capture more solar energy over the course of a day than a flat system.

One of the most spectacular tasks during the initial construction in Rhode Island was stretching the innovative outer textile shell over the 800-square-foot house, which is made of a flexible fiberglass material called Sheerfill® II Architectural Membrane with EverClean® Photocatalytic Topcoat. The material is often used for roofs of domed stadiums, airplane hangars, and other large structures, but has never been used in residential construction.

How does this all really work? Take a look at the Techstyle Haus video.

The interdisciplinary team, including art + design students from RISD, engineering students from Brown, and architecture students from Erfurt, consulted with companies worldwide for the design and build. Shawmut Design and Construction trained the students in safety and helped with management. Saint-Gobain, maker of the Sheerfill II shell, and Birdair Inc., a company that built the sweeping fabric roof on the Denver Airport, consulted on the outer shell. Viessmann and TACO HVAC helped with the HVAC system, and Zola Windows, a Passive House standard window company, fabricated the large windows that make up most of the house’s front and back walls. Other primary sponsors include Solar Decathlon Europe 2014, Pvilion, BMWi + EnOB, Schneider Electric, Ximedica and HB Welding. For a complete list, visit

While all of this work is being done for a good showing at the competition, the students are aware of the bigger picture. The ultimate aim of the event is to spread the word about clean energy and sustainable living. Thousands are expected to attend and tour the homes, and the team is hoping to change the way people think about building materials and inspire them to push the limits of architecture, design and engineering.

After the competition, the team will bring the house to Domaine de Boisbuchet, the site of annual art and design workshops, to act as student housing, and in doing so, promote sustainable living to future generations. The house will continue to be monitored by the team so that future iterations can be further improved.

Hi-resolution press photos here.

RISD PR: Jaime Marland, T +1 401 427 6954 / [email protected]
Brown PR: Kevin Stacey, T +1 401 863 3766 / [email protected]

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