20 Solar-Powered Houses That Reimagine Europe’s Solar Future

What if you could retrofit a postwar Dutch row-house with a “solar skin”? Or create solar skylights in a renovated industrial building in France?


You may have heard about the Solar Decathlon, the Department of Energy’s popular solar-house building competition. It’s been running now for more than a decade, producing dozens of interesting, innovative designs, and inspiring thousands of students to get creative with renewable energy and energy efficiency.


Not to be outdone, in 2007, Spain’s Ministry of Housing licensed the idea from the U.S. government and organized its own competitions, holding them once every two years starting in 2010. It just finished with the 2014 contest, which took place near the Versailles Palace in France.

In all, 20 teams from 17 countries competed. Prizes were awarded in 10 categories, as well overall. Below are the three overall winners, from Italy, France, and the Netherlands. Some of the other houses are in the slide show above.

Rhome For Dencity

Rhome (A Home for Rome), the overall winner, is intended for the Tor Fiscale district of Rome. It’s “part of an urban regeneration program for the district, with a goal to replace illegally inhabited buildings,” say the students behind the design. More generally, it’s a response to population growth and projected shortages of space.

The students, who are from three departments of Roma Tre University, see the need fill in cities with compact apartments (the Rhome is only 645 square feet). “These building sites will become small collective housing communities,” says the group. The actual building (which is different from the Versailles prototype) is four stories high and includes 12 apartments.


“Phileas” comes from university students in Nantes, a coastal city in northern France. It’s a design for a vacant 1895 industrial building called Cap 44, and includes apartments, office space, a restaurant, and a large growing space under a greenhouse roof. The Versailles prototype is a version that focuses on the roof section, and comes (ambitiously) with photovoltaic glass. It will “provide a maximum of natural light in the central atrium of the building and in the farming section located on the roof,” the group says.




The Prêt-à-Loger team from TU Delft University, in Holland, call their design a “Home with a skin.” It’s intended for a typical postwar Dutch row-house. The skin is made up of solar PV and solar greenhouses and is effectively a glass extension allowing both energy generation and home growing. The students point out that most Dutch homes are stable and well-liked–they’re just not very efficient. The design aims to incorporate sustainable elements. “In order to achieve this balance between preservation and enhancement, we propose a skin that wraps itself around the existing neighborhood,” they write.

See more of the houses here.

About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.