From the top, this table looks fairly ordinary. But when the room around it heats up, the table automatically starts to cool the air. When it gets cold, the table warms things back up. All of this happens without any outside energy use: Instead, the table automatically keeps things comfortable through a hidden layer of a special kind of wax and some simple physics.
When the room hits about 71 degrees, the wax starts to melt, absorbing heat from the air. As the room gets cold, the wax starts to harden, releasing heat. A bottom layer of wavy aluminum holds up the wax and helps heat flow back and forth.
The table is the first in a line of “Zero Energy Furniture” from architect and engineer Raphaël Ménard and designer Jean-Sébastien Lagrange.
“The idea of our collaboration started with the purpose of addressing energy efficiency issues of a building at furniture scale, rather than traditional refurbishment solutions–it could be easier, cheaper and more scalable,” Menard and Lagrange say. “It was also to test how a designer and an architect and engineer could work together and propose new paths of design with simple materials and smart geometry.”
As the wax melts and solidifies inside the table, it acts like a thermostat. “You don’t really feel the heat or cold near the table,” the designers say. “It is more like a ‘thermal sponge’ that regulates the temperature of the entire room.”
In the right office, the designers say the table can help offset 60% of the heat that would normally be used, and 30% of the energy used for air conditioning. It works best in certain rooms and in climates where there are big swings in temperature changes throughout the day.
“The table is perfectly adapted for a meeting room of 15 people: The heating charge generated by the bodies could be absorbed by the table for more than an hour,” they say. “But it works also with an open-plan working space, especially if you want to improve free cooling at night and the positive effects of natural ventilation.”
A prototype was on display at Milan Design Week, and the designers hope to eventually bring it to offices, classrooms, restaurants, and hospitals, making variations like shelves and other storage furniture.