With temperatures on the rise, households across the world are cranking up their air conditioning to the detriment of both their electricity bill and the environment. To offer a more sustainable alternative for cooling, a team of National Chiao Tung University (NCTU) students has harnessed the innovative greenhouse technology used to cultivate orchids to create Orchid House, an energy efficient prototype house with an eco-friendly climate control solution. The solar-powered Orchid House aims to serve as a more comfortable and energy efficient model of social housing, and it took first place in the Urban Design category at the the 2014 Solar Decathlon Europe.
Given that the NCTU Unicode is based in Taiwan, a country notorious for its muggy and oppressive tropical summers, it’s little surprise that the team honed in on their country’s unsustainable and ubiquitous air conditioning practices. The students challenged themselves to create a cool and comfortable indoor climate while using the lowest amount of energy possible. Although Orchid House was developed according to Taiwanese local conditions, the affordable and modular building could be adopted in a variety of different environments around the world.
Inspired by the orchid plant’s symbiotic relationship with nature, the Orchid House harnesses natural light with a photovoltaic system and uses a thermal mass wall to regulate internal temperatures. The house also recycles and harvest rainwater, which is used for drip irrigation as well as for its greenhouse evaporative cooling technology. Once hot air enters the house, it is cooled as it passes through the indoor “water wall” subunit, after which it is drawn through the house via large, silent fans.
Similar to how orchids grow atop trees, the lightweight Orchid House can be built atop existing urban buildings. The modular design also makes it easy for builders to expand the footprint of the house. The energy efficient footprint, flexible structural system, and affordable cost make the Orchid House the ideal form of urban housing for young urbanites.