Solar Decathlon 2011: SCI-Arc and Caltech, CHIP

[Editor’s Note: This article is part of our ongoing coverage of Solar Decathlon entries leading up to the event’s kick off on Sept. 23.]

The Southern California Institute of Architecture and the California Institute of Technology’s entry for the 2011 Solar Decathlon was inspired by the high land costs and urban sprawl prevalent in California. To combat the challenges of living in such a place, CHIP was designed to be an affordable home with a small footprint, while still accommodating the region’s warm, coastal climate as well as the mountainous Sierras.

CHIP looks somewhat different from other houses at the Decathlon, with a futuristic outer layer that looks like a silver quilt and an upward-thrusting north end that gives it a spaceship-like shape. But that lifted end serves a very Earthbound purpose: a shady place to park a car. The quilt-like exterior does as well. This vinyl-coated fabric mesh contains the protective “outsulation” that keeps interior temperatures more constant. Inside, the house has multiple levels to separate living, cooking and sleeping spaces without walls.

Image via Caltech

The outer layer is surprisingly simple, made of affordable, common materials traditionally used to make billboards, and is fastened with zip ties and screws. Inside, a fan powerful enough to effect the whole house can change the air and temperature in under 20 minutes. CHIP also comes with an iPad application that allows residents to view their energy use in real time with instant feedback, and can even control the shades. Cameras track motion inside and adjust lights based on occupancy of an area.

The 800 ft2 CHIP is targeted to young professionals in the California region, providing them the option of owning their own home in the face of prohibitive costs. In urban settings, CHIP fits the Los Angeles’ Small Lot Ordinance, and in more rural locales, the house can be expanded by way of an opening on the southern side that increases the size of the living room. After the Decathlon, CHIP will be featured at public and museum exhibits in California, and will ultimately be owned by a permanent resident, as it is fully ready to be installed in Los Angeles.

Laura Caseley is a graduate of SUNY New Paltz and a resident of New York State’s Hudson Valley. She writes for several publications and when she’s not writing, she can usually be found painting in her makeshift studio or enjoying the scenery of her hometown.