Look, up in the sky — it’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s the Heliotrope! The brainchild of Architect Ralph Disch, this rotating solar home was the seed for the extraordinary Sonnenschiff Solar Development and the modern solar movement in Germany. The home takes full advantage of the sun by rotating with it, allowing daylight to course though its triple-pane windows and energize its large roof-mounted solar array and solar thermal pipes. The result is one of the first zero-energy modern homes in the world — one that actually ends up generating five times the energy it consumes.
Twenty-five years ago, when Ralph Disch’s hometown of Freiburg, Germany considered building a nuclear power plant built nearby, he fought vigorously to keep it from happening. As he applied his passion to finding an alternative, he looked to the sun. The resulting Helitrope home is a vigorous concept that makes incredible use of solar energy thanks to its kinetic design. Mounted on a pole, the home is timed to rotate 180 degrees through the day, following the sun’s track. The 6.6 kWH solar panels on top produce more than enough energy to make the home net energy positive. A unique hand railing system on the roof doubles as solar thermal tubing that heats the home’s water and radiators.
The home also re-uses greywater and rainwater for domestic use and features a composting toilet system. While the practicality of the home’s design may not have caught on, the principles behind it speak to a genuine revolution in sustainable design that many architects are only now starting to realize.