Rome University takes first place in Solar Decathlon Europe 2014
Text: Jakob Schoof
The design teams responded to the challenge with a wealth of ideas, whereby the fact that the Solar Decathlon involves ten categories almost became an afterthought – at the presentation of their buildings, few of the teams put emphasis on technology but on architecture and urban development concepts. The houses also called for bit of imagination on the part of the beholder: presented in single-family house format for space, cost and time reasons, the buildings mainly consisted of prototypes standing for a more far-reaching concept.
The winning project from Rome consists of a wooden apartment for the top floor of a multi-family housing project, and if an investor can be found could one day be realised on the periphery of the Italian capital. The runners-up from Nantes, France, presented a concept for breathing new life into a late-19th-century industrial building in the French city's port area with a mix of housing and greenhouse. Delft University of Technology even reconstructed the row house of the grandparents of one of the team members to demonstrate their concept of how buildings could be made more energy-efficient with solar energy. And no less than five teams, including the Berlin one at fourth place, presented attic conversions or roof remodelling solutions for existing buildings.
If Kenneth Frampton had not coined the term "critical regionalism" back in the 80s, someone else would have to do so today to describe the design attitude of the student teams participating in the Solar Decathlon. But only in a very few cases were the projects concerned with a direct reinterpretation of traditional architectural forms. Rather, the regionalism on view reflected a precise analysis of the challenges that cities and rural regions face today in differing parts of the world. And these challenges are completely different to those of 100 or 200 years ago. In this the projects in Versailles breathed new life into the well-worn slogan "think globally, act locally". The result was a veritable world's fair of young architecture in which rivalry about energy budgets, indeed about the comparability of the houses, faded into the background – and this is to be seen in a very positive light. Yet the organisers ought to put more thought to the public exposure of their event; Versailles may be redolent in history but anyone seeking to kindle mass enthusiasm for green building at the next competition would be well advised to seek a venue with more public appeal, one in a downtown location as in Washington and Madrid in the past.