Solar Powered Prefab Dresses in Layers Like A Camper or Hiker


"The Search for The Perfect Assembly-line House"- That is how John Bentley Mays, architecture critic of the Globe and Mail, describes the work of architectural firm rvtr. They won the Prix de Rome, Canada's big architecture prize last week, for their research into sustainable prefab for cold climates. John Bentley Mays writs that Paul Raff, Kathy Velikov, Geoffrey Thun and Colin Ripley "will use their prize winnings to visit universities, factories and design studios in Japan and northern Europe, with the objective of bringing the elusive dream of the perfect assembly-line house down to earth."

To which all of us who have ever toiled in prefab say, good luck and godspeed.


(left to right) Kathy Velikov, Paul Raff, Geoffrey Thun and Colin Ripley.

Mr. Thun and Ms. Velikov spoke with Bentley Mays about their work in prefab over the past five years:

"All these projects are bound up in a series of investigations that look at advancing the state of net energy-producing prefabricated homes," Mr. Thun said. "What we hope to do in the long run is develop systems and build prototypes for premanufactured housing in North America. That sounds like a lofty ambition, but frankly that's what the project is intended to do."


rvtr is developing the North House for this year's Solar Decathalon. The spaces expand and contract with the seasons (less cubic footage to heat in winter) and it is enclosed in a special "Distributed responsive system of skins":


Anyone who spends time in the outdoors camping, canoeing or hiking knows that the best way to prepare for cold weather is to dress in layers. the North House will be structured and constructed in layers. The exterior layers of the house will comprise a "thick" Responsive envelope that physically mediates energy production, environmental conditions, and the persona comfort preference of the occupants. It will be composed of flexible layers integrated with photovoltaics to generate solar energy. The layers will provide shading or will open to the exterior, and will be capable of mitigating extreme climactic shifts by closing down when the house is in conditioned mode or opening up to allow the house to breathe and expand during the temperate seasons.


Ms. Velikov concludes Mays's article:

"Housing, is one of those pursuits of modernism that can never be concluded, because the issues are constantly changing. When Le Corbusier first talked about prefabricated housing and the industries involved, sustainability and energy production and such things were not part of the discourse. But industries are always changing. The goals that housing needs to fulfill - its social goals, economic goals - are constantly in a state of renegotiation as society changes, as our habits of occupying the land change."

More in the Globe and Mail
More RVTR and Paul Raff:
3rd Living Steel Competition: And the Winner Is...
Passive Design and Passive House Mean Two Different Things
More John Bentley Mays:
John Bentley Mays asks: Will Green Design Save Us?
Margie Zeidler: Building Green Incubators
Sustain MiniHome on the Move
HOK's Bill Valentine on Using Less Stuff

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