Architect Ruez Larrea appears to take a page from Le Corbusier’s famous Unité d'Habitation with his Solar Chamber. But unlike the precedent with its stoic and monolithic construction, Larrea gives the building an update with a dramatic swoop to follow the sun, and endless screens to block harsh glares when temperatures rise. The newly completed housing unit in Spain is so well patterned for the environment that it can naturally heat and cool most days of the year passively. The resulting reduction in carbon output is estimated to be upwards of 87%, and the achievement is the result of tried and true materials and design techniques focused on limiting costs for the low-income families that will occupy the units. A sophisticated earthen cooling tunnel, natural breezes and a green roof all work together to create a comfortable living environment.
Larrea‘s design seems to capture all the qualities we like to see in sustainable building design. The shallow floor plate allows every unit to have access to the southern sun and northern cooling breezes; a double wall system is well screened to protect from the hot Spanish sun in summer; and when the screens open up, they create a canopy. Most of the building’s resulting radiant heat is blocked in the small walkout that can be opened or closed depending on the weather. In the winter, the glassed-shelled porches capture heat and circulate it through the apartment via ductwork in the ceiling.
The entire building is ventilated by a central preconditioning air tunnel that is fed by towers on the north side landscape. In the summer, the cooler air feeds the supply ducts, providing tempered fresh air directly into the apartments so they do not have to open their windows. Over the winter, the tubes collect air which is warmed by the earth and channeled through a heating coil. The coil is supplied with hot water by either the condensing boiler or the solar thermal system that also supplies hot water. Air heated by the daytime sun in the double wall is circulated through the entire interior as well.
The tucked away parking helps keep the ground open for plants and people, and the building’s large openings provide a design marquee and communal areas that manage to aesthetically break mass of the structure.
Photographs © Angel Baltanás