Global Observer

Visit the homes of tomorrow in Madrid today

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MADRID -- Part 2 of 2: E-visit and vote for the homes of the future -- there's even a bathroom that promises to never stink up!

MADRID -- Last week, in the middle of an empty field in Madrid's largest, though less-upkept, park Casa de Campo, teams of university students constructed a city. Nineteen teams from across Europe and Asia put the finishing touches on what they foresee as the architecture of tomorrow. Nineteen unique-looking, small homes popped up along the Villa Solar to create a temporary housing development a short walk from the Rio Manzanares. Some round, some square, some triangular, from halfway around the globe or an hour's journey. The only common traits that pulled this hodge-podge housing together was their refreshingly-young architects and designers and the appearance of shiny, glass solar panels, all focused on the Iberian sun.

Today SmartPlanet finishes its two-part series on this eccentric, sustainable village, populated by university students competing at the 2012 Solar Decathlon.

Latticed Chinese luxury

The first house of the future you come across when entering the village is not a three-bedroom split-level with aluminum siding and a two-car garage. It is a merged ode to Daoist thought and Michel Foucault's theories of autonomy in architecture, brought to you by China's Tongji University students.

The "Para Eco-House" is layered like Russian dolls, the outside, a latticework of bamboo and native planets, integrated with a self-irrigation system. It wraps around the smaller house box, which includes a kitchen, bathroom and bedroom. The innerly-nested layer is a smaller inner courtyard which is meant for private family enjoyment.

This bamboo encasing is a popular eco-friendly resource because it can grow very fast, as well as, since it is naturally hypo-allergenic, it doesn't need finishing or sealing with potentially-toxic paints and varnishes. This house is also perfectly-located, as the students plan, over the next nine days, to take advantage of Casa de Campo, by collecting and filtering the field's water and gray water -- and maybe even, unexpectedly, rainwater -- just as they would in their home country, to create an evaporating water cooling system.

Sustainability has a superhero -- and a never-smelling bathroom

Like the Italian team and their gecko mascot, reaching out to kids may be the trick to getting votes in this earthy contest. Plus, 80 of the 1,000 potentially-earned points are scored on how well the team communicates the message and raises social awareness. The team from Bordeaux University has taken this ploy even further by having Sumbiosi Boy give the tours. France's Captain Planet takes you through this fully-adjustable house, with all the walls on wheels, allowing residents to decide just how much public interaction or privacy they desire. The outside paneling of the house doubles both as support and storage space for eco-tastic items like bicycles. By remote, the beds can go up or down and other furniture be hidden, as needed for extra space.

The technology of the Sumbiosi house certainly stands out, as, even though there is no water in the toilet, it always "keeps fresh" in the bathroom, as installed in the ceiling is a "winged ventilation system that creates depression, taking fresh air for natural ventilation," says the superhero himself. The house's roof has even more impressive tricks, as it features, by far, the smallest solar cells in the competition. Silicium is the element that is often used to "change the light rays into electricity," but, like all elements, there are limited amounts of it. The team used tiny inch-squared versions of these cells, with magnifying glasses above, leading to an unusual three-dimensional, triangular formation to the solar panels. "One tiny cell gets the same power as the big panels," Sumbiosi Boy says. This means that these tiny panels are able to produce 500 times the energy as normal cells. However, this is only achieved with direct light, which is why you can spot a couple typical solar panels for those rainy days.

The Live-Outside House

Twenty-four-year-old Atilla Erdos says that a big focus of Budapest University's ODOO house was to make the most out of Hungary's cold winters, as well as their month of sun in Spain. "We had to design our building for the Spain hot summer and the Hungarian cold winters," as it will be trucked right back to their campus, post-competition. Claiming a healthier lifestyle, their house is designed to spend "half of our time under the open sky." They have taken the bulky mechanics of a solar house and stored them in the summer wall that faces across a large patio to the windowed wall of the main house. Besides equipping the inside home with the usual appliances, they have also built into that wall a summer kitchen and even sleeping area.The blob-shaped, blue and white chairs you see actually are specially designed to open into beds for sleeping under the stars.

The summer wall is covered on the outside with PV cells and, as Erdos says, "produces more energy in the winter" with a cooling factor in the summer. The "solid sandwich structure" also features a slightly-slanted roof with flatter, less-visible solar panels, as well as panels on the facade. This is to produce an extra burst of heat, when the Hungarians have to stay inside for the winter.

Your next home, available in sizes small, medium and large

The team of Valencia's Universidad CEU Cardenal Herrera wanted to make a scalable model, literally. Their SML System focused on developing a design that has "prefabrication and industrialization as its main objectives." The pieces of the house can be easily replicated to create a "generation of base objects or projects, forerunners of an industrial series." They even featured diagrams for larger, multi-story homes and entire apartment complexes.

If you can build it, there's an app for that, and this house is no exception. From anywhere you are, you can change the lighting, temperature, pre-heat the oven or double-check that oven's off, and know immediately if anything in the complicated solar technology is breaking. Now, it may encourage the increasing Spanish obesity problem, but it'd be handy when Madrid's proverbial weather light-switch clicks from Summer to Winter.

Also taking advantage of the seemingly-endless Spanish sun, they've put not only 21 PV panels on the roof, but also on the facades facing east and west.

One of the obvious space gobblers of the contest is that the control systems of a self-sustainable, solar-paneled house are huge, while these houses are small. This is the only house that SP visited that didn't take up precious floor-plan space with the control room, instead placing it under the house.

Remember, beyond the research and message for the future of the world, Solar Decathlon is a competition. There are 19 casas in total, so visit the website and vote for your favorite!

Photos: Jennifer K. Riggins

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Jennifer Riggins

Correspondent (Barcelona)

Jennifer Riggins is the content manager and community builder for two SaaS Quote Roller and PandaDoc, as well as she teaches sales, English, and public speaking for Spanish small business. She holds a degree from William Paterson University. She is based in Spain. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure