The Silo House by Cornell University Students

August 10, 2010

The Silo House was designed by a team of students from Cornell University in New York as their entry into the 2009 Solar Decathlon, an international competition where various college and university teams compete to design, build and operate the most attractive, effective and energy-efficient solar-powered house.


Description of the Silo House:

The 2009 Cornell University Solar Decathlon House engages sustainable, modular design with a unique assembly of circular and orthogonal elements, formally similar to the vernacular architecture found in upstate New York. The house is composed of a central square courtyard surrounded by three conditioned “living” cylinders with a rectilinear array of photovoltaics  floating above the entire structure. The open courtyard serves as the focal point of the house, defined by perimeter columns and a photovoltaic canopy as an independent cube. The adjoining cylinders – bedroom, kitchen, and living room – direct views to the central courtyard. Though there are few windows along the circumference of each cylinder, large operable Nanawalls open the space between the cylinders and the courtyard completely. This exchange is encouraged with flexible furniture that can be moved between the interior and exterior and an outdoor fireplace built into the courtyard.

The solar house combines bold aesthetic features with creative sustainable applications. The cylinders are inspired by industrial agricultural materials, employing a CorTen corrugated steel cladding and exposed steel beams on the interior. The house takes advantage of solar gain from the steel envelope through an innovative skin-integrated solar thermal system that pre-heats hot water. To allow additional diffuse light and to promote stack ventilation, each cylinder has two operable Velux® skylights. Through its novel approach to modular design, interplay between conditioned and unconditioned space, and creative applications of university research, the 2009 CUSD team hopes to redefine preconceived notions of the limitations of a solar-powered home.

The interior program and aesthetic grew out of a motivation to build a healthy and productive human environment conscious of needs, locale, impact and form. Given the likely situation of our house in the wine region of the Finger Lakes near Ithaca, NY, the interior seeks to approach the agricultural and industrial aesthetic through a contemporary lens. Much care is taken in material selection to support locally situated businesses with strong environmental conscience and utilize sustainable, regenerative and environmentally benign materials. Locally sourced, and sustainably forested black locust, ash and beech hardwoods form the primary material palette that are complemented by the use of zero off-gassing finishes throughout the entirety of the house interior.

Staying faithful to the interdisciplinary student-run, design-build nature of the project, the interior was approached as an opportunity for students to develop creative solutions for the inherent formal and spatial restraints. The interiors scheme sought ideas for responsive systems that could provide the flexibility necessary to make a 500 square foot space comfortable while maintaining a loyalty to the purity of the circular form. Transformative elements satisfy these needs in all three rooms where the space becomes multifunctional and reconfigurable, while complementing a healthy and active lifestyle in the home.

At first glance, a compact, monolithic kitchen island appears only as a countertop, yet a graceful transformation reveals a complete, energy-efficient cooking system that affords all cooking and entertaining activities. A secondary transformative element exists in the bedroom where the conventional static nature of the bed is challenged, producing a dynamic counterweighted bed system that effortlessly rises into a concealed ceiling box to create an open and usable space in its footprint. Use of a Nanawall™ system as the boundary between the courtyard, bedroom, and living room respectively, blurs the distinction between interior and exterior space. Its reconfiguration unifies the two to support a wide range of unique activities.

The resultant interior environment combines sustainable building practices with a challenge to traditionally static furniture to produce a renewed vernacular for Finger Lake region sensitive to both past, present and future conditions.

Read more about the house – here.

Photography by Chris Goodney