SCI-Arc students are known for creating some out of this world architecture, but this incredible zero net energy prefab home they've developed with their Caltech counterparts for the 2013 Solar Decathlon really pushes the boundaries of space—literally! The concept, which the students told us is also a jab at the Mc Mansion culture of Southern California, is constructed from two compact modules set along industrial steel tracks. The area of both modules together measures a comfy 600 square feet, but when pulled apart to reveal a central deck, the space expands to an open and airy 1800 square feet. Not only does the unique use of space minimize the structure's carbon footprint, but it also allows the occupant to take full advantage of So Cal's sunny weather 365 days a year. Keep reading to learn about DALE's energy-efficient features, as well more of the unique program that squeezes the amenities of a home three times its size into a tiny, self-sufficient space.
The SCI-Arc-/Caltech home, DALE, which stands for Dynamic Augmented Living Environment, is an exercise two years in the making that reacts to California’s love for super-sized suburban tract homes by trading in the typical 3,000+ square foot home for a compact, self-sustaining prefab construction. Like any good California modern, the layout and construction is inspired by the region’s wonderful climate, dramatic geography, and adventurous lifestyle. While there are nods to the adobe, bungalow, and Case Study Houses, the team brings their proclivity for the experimental by rail mounting the home to create an active dwelling that can react according to the user’s needs as well as the climate. An endless variety of module and canopy configurations optimize the usage of space and give the homeowner incredible flexibility. Ultimately with DALE, the team wants to redefine the relationship between the indoors and the outdoors so that the inhabitants are more aware of how they interact with their home and how their home interacts with the environment.
However, by opting to offer the occupants of the home such freedom with the space, the SCI-Arc/Caltech team also set themselves on a complicated engineering path. Because the modules move along rails, the team was required to develop a system that allows for the modules to work both together and independently. As a result, each moving module has a canopy with its own solar photovoltaic array mounted on top.
The PVs are set at a 15-degree angle to maximize solar collection, but also placed on mobile racks that allow the panels to act as awnings when the modules are a single enclosed unit, or to be slid over the midyard to provide shade for the deck when the modules are pulled apart. And – as with all of the Solar Decathlon entries – the photovoltaic panels generate enough electricity to power the house and make it net zero. The portable solar generators used here were in fact student-built specific for this event and funded by members of the Los Angeles community through Power of Green LA. DALE also has its own iPad app that monitors energy usage and helps the homeowner understand where energy is being used. The app also offers encouragement and suggestions on how to run DALE more efficiently. For example, when it’s warm and sunny outside, the app might suggest that the homeowner open DALE up and turn off the A/C.
Inside DALE, one module holds the kitchen and bathroom, while the other holds bedrooms with Murphy beds and other transformable furniture. Cabinetry suspended from recessed tracks in the ceiling help define the space; at night, the cabinets slide to the middle of the module and act as room dividers to create bedrooms, and during the day, the Murphy beds flip up and the cabinets slide to the walls to create additional living space.
SCI-Arc played a large role in developing the concept of the design while Caltech students helped refine the idea, creating and fine-tuning the mechanical systems needed to not only make the home’s expansion and contraction capabilities feasible, but to ensure that the structure would meet all the necessary energy and material requirements set in place by the DOE. The team’s entry, much like their last two years’, is anticipated to be a top contender.
Images © Inhabitat