Biosphera 2.0

Marco Pesenti
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Installed at the foot of Mt Blanc, this living module equipped with all the essentials required to live well is a way of showing live on the Internet over a 12-month period how to live in a zero-energy house.

Installed at the foot of Mt Blanc, Biosphera 2.0 is the house of the future, an itinerant module moving from city to city and gauging the mental/physical wellbeing of users in an energy-efficient environment – all in online posts.

Courmayeur is the first stop on a 12-month international road trip that will take the house of the future from Aosta to Milan, Rimini, Turin and Lugano. Biosphera 2.0 is a unique R/D project in which the energy/technological performance of the built envelope is set against user conduct, constantly monitored via the combined use of “wearable technologies”, start-ups and social networks. This interdisciplinary project – promoted by the Department of Architecture and Design of Turin Polytechnic and the Universitè de la Vallée d’Aoste – has attracted the collaboration of institutes, agencies and companies working in the field of sustainable building. Aktivhaus and Vallée d’Aoste Structure were joined by ZEPHIR-Passivhaus Italia in the development of thermal and lighting simulations; Minergie for the responsible application of energy and renewable sources; and PEFC for sustainable forest management.

Born out of a competition organised by Turin Polytechnic’s WoodLab, entered by 100 students of architecture and engineering nationwide, Biosphera 2.0 is a new version of Le Corbusier’s machine-à-habiter. Covered with carved panels that seem to reference the surrounding Alpine peaks, the experimental house has fallen under the charm of Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, put forward to symbolise its cultural shift.

This living module, with an area of just 25 square metres, is equipped with all the essentials required to live well. The parallelepiped is 12 metres long, 3 metres tall and wide, and contains a living space with an induction kitchenette, a technical space flanked by a bathroom and a sleeping area with two bunk beds. The two windows are on the long side of the block, a larger one in the living area and a much smaller one in the bedroom. Timber was adopted as a sustainable construction material throughout the construction: from load-bearing walls in criss-cross plywood panels coupled with rock wool to furnishings created using traditional Aosta Valley raw materials and craft methods. Interior technology such as LED lighting reduces artificial light consumption and latest-generation appliances and sensors promise excellent energy performance and allow constant monitoring of the occupants and systems.

An experiment shared on the Internet, this holistic research combines user experience and systems in a model construction that incorporates the latest building technology. Biosphera 2.0 is the first module constructed worldwide to the Passivhaus and Minergie-P standard protocols for passive buildings. On its travels, the living module will continuously be subjected to thermal stress, passing from the -20°C of Courmayeur in winter to the +39°C of Rimini in summer. The passive envelope is designed to manage radiation peaks, reducing heat transfer through the outer walls to a minimum. Its timber core produces a thermal shift that alters heat conditions inside by just 0.8 °C a day, even in the most extreme weather conditions. The heat generated by those living in it and the appliances is sufficient to guarantee a constant and ideal internal temperature of around 20°C, with 45-60% humidity levels. The potential of the envelope is coupled with high-performing energy-efficiency systems. The roof’s 2.5 kW photovoltaic system meets the power needs of all the electrical devices in the house; furthermore, the systems include a 150-litre tank that guarantees domestic hot water “heated by the sun”, a small 1250 W air conditioner and ventilation systems with a heat exchanger. When there is no sunshine, a spare 10 kWh is stored in a latest-generation battery, designed to last approximately 15 days in the absence of solar energy. All this might be enough but occupants are also seen as active parts of the house and interact with it to produce free heat via a few yoga positions and an exercise bike with an alternator in the living room, to recharge the batteries in an emergency.

Sensors inside the building collect data on 25 parameters linked to the envelope such as temperature, humidity, air quality and magnetic fields but also fine dusts and internal air quality, especially when the module is subjected to environmental conditions with potential atmospheric pollution. There is more: the 24 volunteer occupants who will succeed one another from Courmayeur to Lugano will be wearing a bracelet developed by the American start-up Empatica; this will gather data on their physical/physiological condition, from heart rate to external body temperature, passing via their emotional state. Even more significantly, the project promotes the concept of biophilic design to establish the physiological and psychological effects of the relationship between humans and their outside environment. The close connection between artificial and natural structures occurs in several ways, many of which have been incorporated into the architectural concept of Biosphera 2.0. As well as the generous amount of glazing in the living room, the optimisation of natural light and use of natural materials and surfaces help reinforce this bond. The ultimate aim is to study the naturalistic intelligence of the module’s occupants, which will provide useful data for calibrating the values needed to attain internal wellbeing.Sensors inside the building collect data on 25 parameters linked to the envelope such as temperature, humidity, air quality and magnetic fields but also fine dusts and internal air quality, especially when the module is subjected to environmental conditions with potential atmospheric pollution. There is more: the 24 volunteer occupants who will succeed one another from Courmayeur to Lugano will be wearing a bracelet developed by the American start-up Empatica; this will gather data on their physical/physiological condition, from heart rate to external body temperature, passing via their emotional state. Even more significantly, the project promotes the concept of biophilic design to establish the physiological and psychological effects of the relationship between humans and their outside environment. The close connection between artificial and natural structures occurs in several ways, many of which have been incorporated into the architectural concept of Biosphera 2.0. As well as the generous amount of glazing in the living room, the optimisation of natural light and use of natural materials and surfaces help reinforce this bond. The ultimate aim is to study the naturalistic intelligence of the module’s occupants, which will provide useful data for calibrating the values needed to attain internal wellbeing.Over a 12-month period, Biosphera 2.0 will tell us what must not be missing from the house of the future and will do so live on the Internet. Thoughts, photographs and videos will help create a log, updated by the series of volunteers, as well as comments and suggestions to help understand how to live in a zero-energy house. On the one hand, the data collected will serve the scientific validation of innovative architectural solutions and the impact of the occupants’ conduct inside the built environment; on the other, Biosphera 2.0 is a way of showing the world the potential of an energetically efficient house, in terms of consumer savings and greater respect for the environment around us.

Biosphera 2.0
 

Biosphera 2.0

 

Biosphera 2.0

 

Biosphera 2.0

 

Biosphera 2.0

 

Biosphera 2.0

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