What will living look like in the near future? You wonder at the entrance to the Wuppertal site, where sixteen university teams have built a house in recent weeks. They participate in the Solar Decathlon Europe, a sustainable building competition. This is the fifth edition. The homes are assessed on, among other things, energy consumption, comfort, technology, architecture, and what the home does for the community spirit. The winner will be announced on June 24.

Beyond the entrance, you will notice a building with a striking blue top. It turns out to be the home of TU Delft. “We are very prominent,” says engineering student Nikki de Zeeuw. The building consists of two layers. The bottom is based on a portico flat from the 1960s in The Hague. “The major challenge in terms of sustainability is in existing buildings,” says De Zeeuw. On the outside, the house has been given a thick, extra layer of insulation, trimmed with brick strips. A lot of work has been done with organic materials, such as recycled paper and cotton. With a model of the flat, De Zeeuw explains that they have devised common areas throughout the bottom layer. To get more interaction and community spirit again. “In conversations we had with them, residents indicated that they would like a library, for example. And a prayer room.”

Homes as an extra layer on a flat

Via a blue-painted staircase we go to the top layer. It is built of wood. “You could build such houses as an extra top layer on top of the flat, to do something about the housing shortage,” says De Zeeuw. The spaces are economically furnished. In a smaller room, De Zeeuw folds out a single bed from one of the walls. In the largest room, one of the walls can be moved in its entirety. “That way you can vary with your interior.” The heat is immediately recovered from the running water in the shower.

Outside it becomes clear that the bright blue top of the building consists of solar panels with a Delft Blue print. The panels feed, among other things, a heat pump, which can heat and cool the building. De Zeeuw explains that the Staedion housing association in The Hague is considering renovating one of its apartment blocks in accordance with the TU Delft design. She has only been able to view a few of the other homes on the site. She found the building of team Mimo, from the TU Düsseldorf, impressive. “Coincidentally, they are currently leading the game.”

At the steel-grey building of team Mimo, architecture student Max Brockerhoff tells us that they started from Café Ada. That is a well-known café-cum-dancing room in Wuppertal. In their plan it has been renovated and expanded with an extra living layer on top. On one side, the house has tilt windows in which solar panels have been incorporated. Also in this house you see a lot of wood and thick, insulating walls. Their entry, says Brockendorff, is distinguished, among other things, because the wood is not glued anywhere. “For environmental reasons.” Pieces of wood interlock via clever constructions. Some walls are made of rye bread-colored cork, or of dried clay brick. The shower here does not have heat recovery, as in the TU Delft building, but the household appliances, such as the washing machine, do. “In our building, they are closer to the technical heart of the building. Because of the short distance you lose little energy.” The smallest residential modules measure 20 square meters, explains Brockerhoff. “Not super big. But living small is part of the zeitgeist.”

3D printed from waste wood and PET

Mimo has also paid a lot of attention to communal areas. In the great room on the ground floor, a screen hangs on one of the walls. “You can use it to control everything in the house, the windows, the lighting, the curtains.”

The team from Grenoble has the renovation of a hotel worked out.
Photo Solar Decathlon Europe

Walking further on the site, the houses of the teams from Prague, Pécs and Aachen stand out because of the green facades. In the entry from Gothenburg, the network of arm-thick, twisting trunks incorporated into the wall catches the eye. The parts are 3D printed from recycled PET and waste wood.

No air bike riding

Just like that of Düsseldorf, the Eindhoven University of Technology team started from Café Ada. But in this case the wooden parts are glued. “As a result, the wood can bear more weight,” says Industrial Engineering student Tygo Hendricx. They have come up with five extra layers on top of Café Ada. Many solar panels have been placed on the side of the building. “As a result, we have space on top for a roof terrace.” Rainwater is collected under the roof via special containers. In the home, a panel indicates how much power is generated and how much is being consumed.

Hendricx emphasizes that the buildings on the Wuppertal site are not an air bike. Perhaps a thousand companies are involved in the sixteen projects, he says. “And they meet here.” Hendricx knows that the team Aura building has already been sold. “It will be 300 meters away.” Hendricx is also remarkably happy. He says that he has seen the just refreshed match position. “We’re going to lead now.”

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