Dutch architect Frank Tjepkema is annoyed with the crudeness of the average house. “The cars we drive, the computers and tablets we use, the smartphones–all sophisticated, aesthetically sound objects,” he tells FRAME magazine. “And then we go home, where we’re surrounded by a stack of bricks.” His gripe is legitimate: Why is commercial architecture so far behind, say, the automotive industry in terms of adopting technological innovations?
There are plenty of answers to that question, but Tjepkema isn’t having any of them. Instead, he and his design team at Tjep went ahead and got to work on a retreat home called Isolée that leverages a number of intelligent systems, which they hope to develop into a working prototype. “The approach to Isolée was the same as designing a piece of furniture,” writes the architect, who describes the three-story building as a cabinet, which touches the ground at four small points of contact.
What makes Isolée so different than, say, a cabin in the woods? First of all, there are the tree-like spindles of photovoltaic panels that sprout from its roof, supplying enough energy to recharge the batteries in the home’s LED lights. Two sides of the building envelope are clad in hinged slats of wood, which can be opened or closed depending on the weather. “The shutters are computer controlled to follow the wishes of the inhabitants, and close automatically when a storm approaches,” the designers say. Both the rotating PVC panels and the shutters are powered by motors, powered by the sun. Water and heat aren’t accounted for, though–the designers imagine a nearby well where water can be drawn.
There are a few possible stumbles here, when it comes to energy efficiency and structural stability. The four points of contact would, potentially, make the home structurally unsound (a structure this tall necessitates a foundation). There isn’t a clear rationale for putting the PVC panels on rotating “branches,” when an equal amount of energy could be gleaned from laying off-the-shelf panels flat on the roof. Which isn’t to say that Isolée isn’t a smart (or good-looking) idea. Rather, Tjepkema has answered his own question about why architecture hasn’t kept pace with phones or cars. Unlike prototyping a new car or phone, building an inhabitable structure is expensive and slow. Experiments like this can become very expensive gambles, which many architects and clients aren’t willing to take. Tjep deserves kudos for imagining the future–now, they need to figure out how to test it.
Check out more about Isolée here.