Casa Solare combines rustic design and energy self-sufficiency | Studio Albori
This very unusual small tower house sits at an elevation of 5,700 feet in the Italian Alps. Casa Solare was designed by Milan’s Studio Albori to look “undesigned”, as if no professional architect had been involved in its planning. Not only that, it looks as if no professional carpenter had been involved in its construction. Roofs slope at odd angles, the cladding is missing from one wall, extensions jut out at random, and there is no sign of symmetry or order to be found anywhere. Step inside and you will see unfinished OSB used as a wall finish, wooden boxes screwed to the walls for kitchen storage, and rustic furniture made from scrap lumber.
The haphazard appearance is deceiving, however. Just below the surface (or right at the surface in the case of the southern façade) is a precisely cut timber frame. And within the timber framed bays of that unfinished south wall are some sophisticated solar energy components.
Studio Albori placed almost all the windows on the south wall for direct passive solar heat gain. Interspersed with the windows are panels containing a phase-change material. Mineral salts within the panels absorb the sun’s heat, melting in the process. The salts recrystallize at night, releasing the stored heat into the house. High levels of insulation in the other walls plus a heat recover ventilator help to keep the heat inside.
The three-story house has two bedrooms and a bunkroom in just 83 m2 (893 ft2) of above-ground floor space. The architects put all the main rooms on the south side, taking advantage of the sun exposure and breathtaking views of the mountains. Service and storage areas are located on the colder north side.
A third strategy for harvesting solar energy consists of a large photovoltaic array mounted on the roof. The PV array generates enough power to meet all of Casa Solare’s electrical needs and then some. A wood cookstove is used to heat water as well as to supplement the solar space heating.
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