It's curtains for the Soft House

© KVA

The International Building Exhibition in Hamburg is unlike any North American building show. Where in America you will see greenwashed monster single family houses like this one at the IBS in Las Vegas, at IBA Hamburg they are building a real community of multifamily houses, "setting an example today for the new standards of tomorrow."

IBA Hamburg/Promo image

Kennedy & Violich Architecture of Boston wouldn't get a look-in at Las Vegas, but in Hamburg they get to demonstrate what Sheila Kennedy calls "soft architecture." She explains:

Architecture must bring new ideas into society. Rigid structures together with the underlying way of thinking should be dispersed. Buildings and towns should become more adaptable, flexible and should be designed to be more durable in a gentle manner.

(Sheila has been developing her ideas of soft architecture for a while; see MIT Architect Develops Solar 'Curtains' for Home Applications and listen to her on TreeHugger Radio here)

© KVA

Some have called these modular houses, but the are in fact a more interesting building technology: solid wood. It's described on the KVA website as "s a traditional solid wood panel and deck construction with wood dowel joints." and on the IBA Flyer: (slow loading PDF)

Wood is sustainably useful, as wood is one of the few constructively used renewable building materials. Wood is employed in the Soft House in the form of bracing board stack elements based on traditional building methods involving wood. With the exception of the foundations, the walls and ceilings of the Soft House are planned in the bracing board stacked method and will be left as wooden surfaces to achieve even greater CO2 reduction.

© KVA

Then there is the soft part of the building.

The wood construction is complimented by flexible solar nano-materials in a lightweight, smart energy-harvesting textile cladding which bends to respond to sun angle or to open views. The textile cladding shades a large glass curtain wall with views to the Parklands. A three-story air convection ‘atrium’ brings daylight deep into the ground floor and modulates the rise and fall of warm and cool air with a system of interior curtains and operable window vents.

© KVA

Because the curtains are so flexible, the embedded photovoltaics can be twisted to track the sun and maximize the solar gain. It can easily be adjusted to let in more sun in winter, while shading in summer. The interior walls are soft too, allowing the residents to partition the interiors themselves and change the layouts. The interior curtains are embedded with LEDs for lighting. A press release from MIT gives greater detail:

Made of a network of textile strips integrated with photovoltaic cells, the façade is a responsive two axis solar tracking system. Just as a sunflower moves with the sun, the façade moves to capture the maximum amount of clean energy to power the housing units. At the same time, it casts shade in the summer and allows light to penetrate deep into the homes during the winter — saving the household energy year round. As it changes position, the responsive façade creates different shade patterns and views that become part of the architecture.

© KVA

The architects say that the Soft House "transforms the German PassiveHaus typology, offering a more flexible living experience." The IBA flyer says it is built to the Passivhaus energy standard. It will be interesting to see if it tests out and meets the standard; that's a lot of glass.

© IBA Hamburg

Why is this in Hamburg and not Las Vegas?

You can see the soft house to the left of the BiQ building with the algae shades, part of a community that " provides a foretaste of the perhaps most innovative constructional neighbourhood in Europe." The difference between this Building Exhibition and what we get in North America is startling; In Las Vegas we saw a single family 6,721 square foot green godzilla that Kaid Benfield called embarrassing. It's time Las Vegas learned some lessons from Hamburg.

Tags: Germany | passive house

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