As an introduction to our readers, could you describe the project?
To sign up and partake in this competition, we had to conceptualize real challenges within the Dutch building environment that we as a team were willing to tackle and find solutions for. We chose to combine two large challenges that the current Dutch market is facing: by 2030 the Netherlands are in need of a million new homes and many offices are currently inefficiently used, in terms of both energy and space. We thus came up with two key concepts: modularity and adaptability. The first one is modularity: by creating four different prefabricated units, several housing typologies could be assembled. The second concept is adaptability meaning long term flexibility: If the function of a building would change, the building itself should be able to foster that change.
How did you bring these concepts into practice?
We translated these two objectives to five energineering systems; biomass, air, material, water and energy. We took the Marconi Tower in Rotterdam, which is entirely built up out of concrete and minimal isolation, as our case study because it is known to be an unsustainable building. Primarily, for example through materiality, we aimed to apply passive energy systems where possible, and added active methods if necessary. The 5 energy systems together work as a positive network, producing more energy than we use.
Can you talk us through the first phase of such a large project; how and where do you start?
The initiator, Andy van der Dobbelsteen, saw the Solar Decathlon 2019 announcement. He then put up posters around the faculty, after which a small group of people gathered for brain storm sessions. The first team consisted of 15 people, all with different backgrounds. During the first phase we only had a couple of weeks to come up with our main concept and apply for the competition; we had to file a report in which we clearly stated our challenges, our goals and how we would achieve them, a budget scheme included. Both the report and the competition consisted of 10 diverse criteria, which we would be graded and ranked on, such as architecture, communication and energy efficiency. Thus we divided ourselves in sub-teams to each work on these criteria, to make sure we equally covered them all.
Can you give an example of an obstacle that you personally or you as a team experienced during the realisation process?
Personally, and I think many others in the team, struggled with translating the project from a conceptual format to a feasible object. At TU Delft we are mainly taught how to think conceptually, which over the course of our education programs we strongly improve in. However, I think there could be a larger focus on working from concept towards realisation and feasibility. We definitely had to overcome this lack of more practical knowledge together, as a team. We all had never built anything in our lives – we know how to draw a detail, but it is not our specialization. Especially Van Eesteren company has been a huge helping hand in reaching that point of realistic building. It feels amazing to walk around the construction place and be able to fully understand the engineering steps of your own plans and details; you see your drawing come to life! I know it is hardly possible to implement such a project in our education programs, there is simply too little time. Therefore, I truly recommend fellow students to take part in a project like MOR if you get the chance; working collaboratively and learning by doing has been an educational and personal enrichment.
How would you describe working with so many disciplines and nationalities on one project?
The team changed a lot over the past two years – we started out with 15 students, and at the peak of our production, we worked on the project with 54 students, some part time, some full time. Currently the team consists of 40 people. Within this group, there are 20 nationalities and 8 different study backgrounds. Most of us have followed an education program in the field of built environment, but since we have followed our courses all around the world, our knowledge and working methods differ a lot. This too has been surprisingly enriching for me, working together complementarily to reach a higher level.
Can you tell me a little about the competition itself and how the audience and jury received your project?
Like the competition stated, we built up our module in 15 days starting June 26th. Before our arrival, the concrete construction, which was a direct copy of our case study the Marconi Tower, was already present; therefore we economically used less trucks to transport all the construction elements. The opening of the public exhibition was July 12th, and the results were announced July 28th. We finished 2nd which was a huge honour and achievement. Furthermore, we set an international Solar Decathlon record for the amount of places on the podium. During the public exhibition, a jury visited our prototype every two days to check the criteria, our energy levels, such as temperature, was monitored on a daily basis. We received a lot of positive response from the public – most people felt comfortable and ‘at home’. For example, we built a swing in the court yard, which people would sit on for relaxation. It made us proud to see use and move around our project in real life.
So what's next?
Our prototype is currently still in Hungary on public display. Around October the whole construction will be transported back to Delft for people to see. Furthermore, several people from the team are aiming to set up a start-up, based on our project, in collaboration with some companies involved. However, this is still in an early phase, thus uncertain.