Smart Modular House Has Solar Tech In Its Walls

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Solar power for the home can seem like an afterthought, an expensive eco-luxury tacked onto a sturdy roof. But now a Boston-based architect has re-imagined solar for the home as a lightweight fabric-based exterior that changes dynamically.

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The “Soft House” is an award-winning design that was recently built on Wilhelmsburg Island in Germany as part of a sustainable model community project. The house is the brainchild of MIT architectural professor and KVA Matx founding principal Sheila Kennedy, who you might know for her Portable Light Project.

Instead of traditional photovoltaics mounted on the roof, or even stuck to the walls, the Soft House features a network of textile strips that have photovoltaic cells integrated into them, MIT reported. These strips allow the whole façade to move with the sun just like a sunflower. In addition, the façade can be positioned to maximize shade in hotter weather and maximize interior light during winter conditions.

Kennedy first presented the Soft House concept in 2008 in response to a challenge to build a pre-fab energy-efficient house that can generate its own power. The house adheres to what Kennedy calls “soft architecture,” meaning incorporating green energy functionality directly into architectural materials. With its crashing wave of solar fabric strips, the Soft House appears to live up to its name.

The house’s special fabric “can be moved to follow the sun generating up to 16,000 watt-hours of electricity — more than half of the daily power needs of an average household in the United States,” the Soft House website reads. I see plenty of room for improvement, though. The U.S. Energy Information Agency reported that the average American house used 11,280 kilowatt-hours in 2011.

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According to MIT, the Soft House will be tested out and monitored as part of the 74-acre community in Germany. The goal is ultimately to replicate the original house anywhere in the world. With its flexible floor plan and curving interior, the test version does make green architecture seem a lot less hard.

Photo: A close-up of the solar façade on the “Soft House.” Credit: Sheila Kennedy