To give future generations the ability to meet their own needs, our built environment needs to excel rather than endure. The need for continual improvement calls for fewer passive houses and more active houses – buildings that adopt a responsible and sustainable attitude as not just zero energy consumers but net energy producers, reaching a positive energy balance over time. Materiality is a fundamental element of such a discussion, and wood an obvious protagonist as a carbon store that substitutes for fossil fuel-intensive alternatives such as steel and concrete.
Prefabricated timber claddings can be treated or finished or furnished or devised with different products and features that assist with turning the building into a net energy producer, and aligning this project with Rolf Disch’s concept of the PlusEnergy solar house allows for a conceptual toolbox of sustainability objectives that can be translated into innovative wooden cladding systems. Prototypical design development studies backed up with raw data in the form of simulations, tests, and analyses begin to answer the question of how PlusEnergy timber cladding systems can be turned into a feasible and sustainable alternative in the production of multi-storey timber buildings.
The proposal is an investigation of how timber products might be implemented to create tall housing schemes that, as with Disch’s Freiburg Heliotrope building, don’t just produce more energy than they consume, but produce several times more energy than they consume. These TimesEnergy houses turn power plants into buildings and buildings into power plants. Prefabricated timber claddings can be treated or finished or furnished or devised with different products and features that assist with turning the building into a net energy producer – an architecture that excels rather than endures.
Two primary concepts are at play in this building: the power-producing façade components, and the compost towers they attach to, which not only provide lateral stability but allow for an unprecedented shift in the building’s function, from consumer to producer of energy. This unique bioenergy system is partly based on that developed by Swiss-born French permaculturist inventor Jean Pain (1928-1981), produced 100% of the energy needs of Pain and his wife from composting materials. The composting scheme works as follows: 1) Soil and microorganisms are inserted into the compost, while the tower’s façade components collect water and absorb solar and wind energy. 2) Electricity and gray water is fed to the living units, surplus electricity is fed to the grid. The living units feed gray water, food waste, and humanure into the compost tower, which produces gases, manure, and gray water to the green houses. 3) Biogas (methane) is also produced, with any excess again being fed into the grid. 4) The green houses produce food both for the living units and the local community, members of which can buy fruits and vegetables in a public market within the building.
The power-generating façade component is made from steam-bent plywood, in designs uniquely aligned with and mass-customised for each tower wall. Unique cutting patterns are generated for each wall’s components, which are then laser cut and steam-bent into a shape that allows one side to collect rain water while surfaces facing the primary sun direction are fitted with thin, transparent, high-efficiency solar cells. In between these are fitted bespoke aeroelastic flutter windcells from Humdinger, capable of producing around 7.2 kwh/month/component at average windspeed conditions of 6 m/s.