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Fully-customized, modular solar house is 3D printed prefab

Solar House 2.0, erected this year on Barcelona’s waterfront, uses time-tested passive solar techniques (like south-facing windows to let in winter sun and dramatic eaves to shade it in summer), but it takes a high-tech leap forward using digital design and digital fabrication techniques to make it completely optimized for ideal solar gain.

Digital building design

With its jagged cantilevers jutting out at odd angles across most of the facade (except the North corner), Solar House 2.0 looks, and acts, like few other buildings. Thanks to digital design, the building’s structure was mathematically adjusted so that every point of the building was adapted to the exact conditions of the exterior.

Digital fabrication

Software also played a lead role in the building’s construction. Relying on 3D milling (for more on 3D printing see our video MakerBot: open source, self-replicating, stuff-making robot)- the Solar House designers employed a CNC (computer numerical control) wood router- the building’s individual pieces could be completely customized, creating the totally irregular patterns not possible (or affordable) with older, mass production techniques.

“Old industrialization methods couldn’t afford that change of geometries,” explains the building’s lead designer Rodrigo Rubio of the Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia (IAAC), “because in the old manufacturing methods all of the pieces had to be equal to optimize the production, you were just cutting the same piece 1000 times.”

“Now for the machine, the machine that is reading the code from the computer, it’s the same to draw the same 1000, but all of them different. it doesn’t optimize to make it equal.”

Printed pre-fab for fast assembly

Solar House 2.0 was completely prefabricated so when the pieces arrived at the site, it took the team just 2 weeks to erect the 154-square-meter (1,658 sq ft) building. Rubio sees digital fabrication as changing the way we build and construct things.

“These technologies are getting cheap enough so that in the same way we have copy services to make photocopies we will have in a few years fabrication serves where you can bring your things and 3D print materials or laser cut wood.”

Solar bricks

The innovative part of the Solar House 2.0 design, according its designers, are the “solar bricks”- the cantilever sections that make up the facade. “Each single module could answer to its own structural, energetic and environmental needs. The skin will act as a network of intelligent nodes, a “solar brick” that protects from the solar radiation, collects and storage the energy the data at the local scale.”

Each module, or cantilever, integrates shade, storage, electricity production, air conditioning, natural ventilation and natural lighting (the window) and an artificial light source.

Open source design

The building’s plans are open source and available to anyone who wants to build their own solar house, solar office or solar tower, but completely-customized to their location. “For example, you can download the thing for Helsinki and modify the parameters you need in Helsinki and the whole geometry is getting, I don’t know, closer, with the panels more vertical.”