Self-Sufficient Isolée House Design Treads Lightly

While many green homes try to blend in seamlessly with the environment, a new type of structure being favored in some eco-tourism sectors is to do just the opposite. Some designers are creating sturdy, self-sufficient structures that allow for interactions with nature but are in no way trying to merge within the setting — in fact, they are designed to be on stilts so that they touch the ground as little as possible.

Such is the reasoning behind the Isolée house, created by Dutch design firm Tjep. Looking more like a piece of toy furniture that a dwelling, the house produces all of its own power by its tree-like solar panel limbs and deliberately stands out as a minimalist, functional monument to man-made design amid the natural world.

The Isolee house is designed to interact as little as possible with its environment. Image via Tjep.

The Isolee house is designed to interact as little as possible with its environment. Image via Tjep.

“I was curious to see what would happen if you gave a house the same sort of detailed design that’s found in all sorts of products we use every day,” said Tjep founder Frank Tjepkema. “The cars we drive, the computers and tablets we use, the smartphones—all [are] sophisticated, aesthetically sound objects. And then we go home, where we’re surrounded by a stack of bricks.”

The outer doors open to reveal spectacular views and can close automatically when inclement weather arrives. Image via Tjep.

The outer doors open to reveal spectacular views and can close automatically when inclement weather arrives. Image via Tjep.

As simple as the three-story Isolée house looks, it is packed with smart technology to maximize the amount of renewable energy it receives from the environment. The circular solar panels, for instance, slowly pivot at the ends of their branches to face the sun as it moves through the sky.

A diagram of the internal layout. Image via Tjep.

A diagram of the internal layout. Image via Tjep.

The horizontal louvers on the side doors can be adjusted to meet the natural light and solar gain needs of the inhabitants. If desired, the doors that cover the full height of the building can be opened entirely, like giant shutters, via solar-powered electric motors to reveal spectacular views on two sides through the floor-to-ceiling windows on each level. If inclement weather approaches, the doors can be programmed to close and seal automatically.

To stay off the grid, much of the heat in the house not provided by passive solar means is supplemented by a wood-burning stove, which is also computer controlled to provide optimum temperature control. This ingenious stove is built into a cavity in the side wall of the house and can be accessed from both inside and outside. Wood is stored in a compartment below the bottom floor and can also be accessed from the living room or from outside.

All of the artificial lighting within Isolée uses LED bulbs that are powered by solar rechargeable batteries. The only essential that needs to come from outside is water, which can come from separate tanks or nearby wells, depending on where the house is situated.

Randy Woods is a Seattle-based writer and editor with 20+ years of experience in the business publishing world. A former managing editor of Seattle Business, iSixSigma, Claims and Waste Age magazines, he has covered topics that include newspaper publishing, entrepreneurism, green businesses, insurance, environmental protection and garbage hauling (yes, really). He also contributes to the Career Center Blog for The Seattle Times and edits a photography magazine called PhotoMedia. When not working, he likes to hide out in Seattle movie theaters and attend film festivals—even on sunny days.