Unit 4

Unit Brief

“The GREEN TECHNOLOGY race is the space race of our time” – Stephen Chu Nobel Prize winner in physics and former US Secretary of Energy at the Solar Decathlon 2012 award ceremony, Washington D.C.

Unit04 Building Lab, experiments with design, matter and the medium of building.  A return to materiality, instrumentality and craft is considered integral in developing new design content, making new discoveries and to gain architectural knowledge. The pedagogy of Unit04 aims at demystifying the transformative capacity of architecture and design in the actualization of “live” projects with a distinct sense of quality and aesthetic capable of giving more back to the environment than they cost. The Building Lab continues its pursuit of material output as the ultimate gauge of success, of design work seeking to turn design ideas to invention and invention to innovation.

Unit04 and team HelioMet recently returned from Datong, China where they participated in Solar Decathlon China 2013 competition with a zero net energy house prototype called SunBloc (awarded the RIBA Silver Medal in 2012). The Building Lab intends to put last year’s discoveries and the SunBloc experience to use in a radically different context. The Building Lab and team HelioMet intends to participate in the Solar Decathlon Latin America & Caribbean 2015 (SD LAC2015) to be held in Cali, Columbia in December 2015. SD LAC2015 challenges students to design, build and operate solar-powered houses that are cost-effective, energy efficient, attractive and suitable for tropical climates.

The theme in the SD LAC2015 used as a starting point of the Building Lab brief is centered on social housing with high density (minimum of 200 units/hectare) low income homes (many living on less than USD 1/day) and well considered public spaces. The prototypical home designed, built and operated in the SD LAC2015 competition needs to be designed for a 5 person family and cost less than USD 60.000 to construct. The realized prototype needs to be situated in an urban design for a typical hectare of the new city positively impacting the region and the environment. International teams are encouraged to challenge local and conventional materials and propose new lightweight, easy to be built and inexpensive alternatives. The Building Lab is continuing the research and interest in lightweight foam based materials started with SunBloc House and developed further with experiments on organic foam alternatives over the past academic year. We are also continuing the idea of in-situ fabrication and assembly by non-trade or low skill labour which is highly interesting in the context. This continuity is essential to design and actualize a prototypical home for the competition to be held in December 2015.

Teachers are not judges, but propagate their own knowledge, point out the road to new horizons and learn with the students in previously unexplored fields.” - Frei Otto

The studio activities revolves around team HelioMet as an alternative form of student lead practice suitable as learning platform, for experimentation, discoveries of new design horizons as well as for the rapid actualization of complex “live” projects. Time is divided between individual and team based design and other administrative activities such as consultancy, project delivery, documentation, communication and fund raising. Semester A is devoted to design and experimentation individually or in small teams. Semester B is spent on elemental design development and project delivery aiming for a full package of full construction documentation at the end of the academic year. The portfolio is comprised of two parts a team book including all the deliverables on the collective project and an individual portfolio with both design work and documentation of other responsibilities.

Subject to successful project delivery, we plan to construct the house in Cali, Columbia in August and September 2015 before competing with it in the competition that is held in December 2015. Because of the great distance to Columbia, we are going to experience tropical climates by visiting Kew Gardens and the Eden project. We are also doing a unit trip to the Venice Biennale titled Fundamentals focusing on architectural research. We are kicking off the year with the Sir John Soane “Primitive Hut” Competition. For this first exercise, we are looking to take over Lincoln Inn Fields by instigating growth as a medium for building.

The design opportunities resulting from this making process are often leading to an unexpected design output as was the case with “SunBloc” with a clear design identity, quality and a sense of aesthetic with the potential to open unexplored fields of design. The Unit04 Building Lab asserts that invention comes about via the recombination and hybridization of existing practice with new materials, technology, tools and techniques. True innovation, that we strive for, conversely arises from how those inventions are turned around in new forms of material practice and manifested in built form. The design driver that we encourage is directed by the subjective pursuit of quality and aesthetic expression.

'Foam Henge'


Course Professional Diploma in Architecture - RIBA Part 2
Tutor Jonas Lundberg
Nate Kolbe
Eva Diu