Chiba University's Renai House just placed second in the 2014 Solar Decathlon Europe’s architecture division. Designed to address the issue of natural disasters in urban areas such as those that had been afflicted by the devastating 2011 Tohoku-Oki earthquake, Renai House looks at the big picture of long-term post-disaster design. Rather than create temporary post-disaster architecture, the Chiba University students developed the design concept of "urban seeds" that will help rebuild sustainable cities from the ground up.
Deeply affected by the Tohoku-Oki earthquake that decimated northeastern Japan in March 2011, the students of Chiba University focused on creating post-disaster architecture and communities for their 2014 Solar Decathlon Europe entry. The design concept, “urban seeds,” was based off of studies conducted on the city of Rikuzentakata, one of the cities hardest hit by the 2011 earthquake. Each energy-efficient prefab housing module can be easily and flexibly joined together to create long-term housing and sustainable communities in disaster-afflicted areas.
The designers focused on three main ideas to form the foundation of “urban seeds”: speed, flexibility, and dignity. Each wooden prefab home can be quickly constructed at the nearest factory and then shipped out to the disaster-stricken zone. Once the house is in place, refugees will be able to customize the home to accommodate a variety of family sizes or other uses such as clinics or offices. Lastly, the Renai House can help restore a sense of dignity and community to the disaster victims with a design that facilitates social networking and communal spaces. Over time, temporary elements can be swapped out for more sturdy furnishings.
Taking climatic differences into consideration, the Renai House can be easily modified depending on its location. If placed in Southeast Asia, for instance, the roofing can be replaced by locally sourced bamboo for better air ventilation. By using efficient insulation, natural materials, and solar panels, each Renai House unit can achieve an 80% reduction in energy consumption as compared to conventional Japanese housing.