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North House: Responsive Envelope Prototyping

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Xululabs, Xululabs

Project Name

North House: Responsive Envelope Prototyping

Project Status


Year Completed



800 sq. feet


University of Waterloo


  • Structural Engineer: Blackwell Bowick Partnership
  • Geoffrey Thün
  • Kathy Velikov
  • John Straube
  • Michael Collins
  • Philip Beesley
  • Donald McKay
  • Rick Haldenby
  • Alan Fung
  • Lyn Bartram
  • Rob Woodbury
  • Lauren Barhydt
  • Chris Black
  • Chloe Doesburg
  • Maun Demchenko
  • Natalie Jackson
  • Jen Janzen
  • Bradley Paddock
  • Matt Peddie
  • Allan Wilson
  • Brent Crowhurst
  • Ivan Lee
  • Bart Lomanowski
  • Sebastien Brideau
  • Andrew Marston
  • Toktam Saied
  • Humphrey Tse
  • Rob Mackenzie
  • Kevin Muise
  • Johnny Rodgers
  • Davis Marques
  • Kush Bubbar
  • Jin Fan
  • Yin He
  • Jenny Thai
  • Vertech Solutions
  • Embedia Technologies
  • Eco-Options Geosolar
  • Ecologix Heating Technologies
  • Slatus Air
  • Goldwater Solar Services
  • Red Electric
  • Laurie Johnson
  • Wladyslaw Iwaniec
  • Bulthaup Canada
  • MCM 2001
  • MCM 2001
  • MCM 2001
  • Geoffrey Thün
  • David Lieberman





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Project Description

Designed and built for the 2009 U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon, this solar-powered, 800-square-foot prototype house is tailor-made for northern climates. The project combines a responsive louver and building-integrated solar-panel skin with a savvy interior that contributes to the overall building performance.

Any architect pursuing LEED points knows that the actions of the occupant can have more impact on a building’s energy performance than any single technology, so the team concentrated on developing a building management system—called the Adaptive Living Interface System (ALIS)—that is both easy to use and informative. The program collects data and monitors energy use and production, water use, and indoor and outdoor environmental conditions. This information can be accessed via a Web-based application that parses the data and can track patterns over months or years.

Since changes can be made and monitored in real time, touchscreen panels are integrated throughout the house and translate information into a dollar figure of savings or expenditures for the day. And to make monitoring simple, the design team based the system on open-source calendar and social networking softwares that are easy to use and require no new learned skills. It was this level of integration that intrigued juror Cristobal Correa. “They looked at all the systems and they talk about the user. It’s very important for these things to actually interact with the user—this house is like a living thing,” he said.

Energy usage is also minimized by the smart interior design, which incorporates elements such as a custom cellular ceiling. Composed of 4,500 individually formed cones, the ceiling is made from window-shade material that helps to absorb reflected sound and direct light from the perimeter further into the core of the space, an added functionality that impressed juror Frank Barkow. “I really like the ceiling idea,” he said, “especially the components that made it and how it was conditioned by local and general lighting conditions.” The jury admired the house’s overall combination of form and function, but it was the monitoring system that especially caught their attention.
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