Glass roof tiles let a little sunshine in to cut heating bills

Soltech Energy glass tiles help cut energy bills.  Click image for more pictures.

By Darren Quick

Swedish company, Soltech Energy, recently received the gold medal for this year’s hottest new material at the Nordbygg 2010 trade fair in Stockholm, Sweden. The award was fitting because it was for the company’s home heating system that features roof tiles made out of glass. The tiles, which are made from ordinary glass, weigh about the same as the clay roof tiles they replace but allow the sun to heat air that is then used to heat the house and cut energy bills.

Thankfully, although the tiles themselves are transparent, they are backed by a special black absorption fabric so sticky beaks won’t be able to sit on the roof and watch what’s going on inside. This fabric absorbs the sun’s rays, which heats the air underneath, with the air formed into columns by beams within the roof to ensure it is heated sufficiently.

The most common way to connect the system to a house’s existing heating system would be to a water based heating system via an accumulation tank but the system is also designed to be integrated with both air and water based systems, such as a ground source heat pump, air heat pump, pellet boiler or electric boiler – the only requirement is some form of central heating system.

This setup allows the system to heat the house during winter and transfer the heat absorbed in summer to a ground heating system through a heat convector and a fluid based system to help achieve a cooling effect.

Depending on factors such as climate, roof angle and house direction, the system should generate around 350 kWh heat per square meter (3 square ft).

If your roof isn’t suited to tiles, Soltech Energy also offers glass wall panels that can be tailored to individual houses and benefit from the lower angle of the incoming rays of sunlight during the winter.

Via inhabitat


This Bridge Looks Like It Can Fly to Space

The Paik Nam June Media Bridge project—in Seoul, Korea—is more than a kilometer long (0.67 miles). It has museums, libraries, and shopping malls, but what it really needs are anti-gravity engines so it could fly to orbit.

Those ramps are not engines of any kind, however. They just lead to gardens by the river and ship docks:

Each of the bridge””s floors has horizontal gardens. The building uses solar panels for energy, as well as water from the river for climate regulation.

I wish they built something similar in New York. Walking from Brooklyn to Manhattan over the bridges is nice, but this look a lot nicer. [Design Boom]

Send an email to Jesus Diaz, the author of this post, at

Japan Wants To Sell Energy-Efficient ''Smart'' Cities To The World: Ceatec 2010


CHIBA, Japan — There were gadgets and robots galore at Japan”s premier electronics show this week. But one of the biggest attractions wasn”t anything you could touch – an energy efficient city of the future.

For the first time, the Combined Exhibition of Advanced Technologies, better known as Ceatec, devoted one area of the show floor to selling a vision of urban life in 2020 and beyond.

The Japanese version of the so-called “smart city” exists in a post-fossil fuel world. Alternative sources like the sun, wind and nuclear power are harnessed in mass quantities. That power is then distributed to buildings, homes and electric cars connected to each other through “smart grids,” which monitor usage throughout the network to maximize efficiency.

The goal is to drastically cut carbon emissions, which many scientists believe cause global warming – ideally to zero. The bigger dream is for the smart city to become Japan”s next big export, fueling new growth and ambition at a time when the country finds itself in an economic rut and eclipsed by China as the world”s second-biggest economy behind the U.S.

The city of Yokohama, just southwest of Tokyo, is the site of a social and infrastructure experiment to create a smart city for the rest of the world to emulate. Launched this year, the “Yokohama Smart City Project” is a five-year pilot program with a consortium of seven Japanese companies – Nissan Motor Co., Panasonic Corp., Toshiba Corp., Tokyo Electric Power Co., Tokyo Gas Co., Accenture”s Japan unit and Meidensha Corp.

“We want to build a social model to take overseas,” said Masato Nobutoki, the executive director of Yokohama”s Climate Change Policy Headquarters, during a keynote event at Ceatec this week. “Yokohama is a place where foreign cultures entered Japan 150 years ago and then spread to the rest of the country.”

Now, he said, it”s where the best of Japan is converging, preparing for launch to the wider world.

Japan certainly isn”t the only country working on smart grids.

Australia has committed $100 million and is developing its first commercial-scale smart grid in Newcastle, a city a New South Wales state. South Korea is embarking on a $200 billion smart grid project on Jeju Island as part of efforts to cut national energy consumption by 3 percent by the year 2030. China is expected to invest a world leading $7.3 billion toward smart grids and related technologies in 2010, ahead of Washington”s $7.1 billion in Department of Energy grants, according to market research firm Zpryme.

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Zpryme estimates that the global smart grid market will be worth $171.4 billion in four years, up sharply from $69.3 billion in 2009.

On Tuesday, Toyota Motor Corp. separately announced the launch of its own home smart grid system in Japan to coincide with its plug-in hybrid cars going on sale in early 2012.

Called the Toyota Smart Center, it calculates the most efficient way of using energy, eliminating waste by shutting off gadgets when they aren”t being used and maximizing the recharging benefits of hybrids, which recharge as they run. Utilities can also be used when rates are cheapest such as overnight to heat stored water.

With competition heating up and so much business at stake, Japan is hoping to aggressively court customers overseas, especially in emerging economies, with not only its vision but also its long-standing reputation for reliability and quality.

If it”s all a little hard to imagine, Nissan was offering a peek into the future at Ceatec. The centerpiece of the automaker”s pavilion was a 3-D theater with a 275-inch screen giving viewers a virtual reality drive through a “near future” Yokohama. The virtual city tour will be replicated for leaders from around Asia when they gather in Yokohama next month for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meetings.

“We need to turn talk into reality,” said Minoru Shinohara, senior vice president for technology development at Nissan, which will begin selling its Leaf electric car in December.

“If all we do is talk, I have a great fear that we will be surpassed,” said Shinohara.

The High-Tech, Luxury, Surveillance Hotel

By John Scott Lewinski

The Aria Resort and Casino, within MGM’s new City Center complex on the Las Vegas Strip, may be the most technologically advanced hotel ever built. Its mix of gadgets and cutting-edge networks blends centralized convenience with personalized luxury (and even a squeeze of energy-saving sophistication) to offer a glimpse of what all hotels could look like in the future.

The Aria opened on Dec. 16 last year, marketing itself as a high-tech alternative to Vegas’s more traditional resorts, with a data and communication system driven by 283 individual telecom rooms and a broadband antennae network covering 140 million square feet. And while the technology brings many high-tech luxuries to visitors—omnipresent wireless connectivity, 3D monitors and smart touchscreen interfaces—it also crosses into potential Big Brother territory (even by Vegas standards). Here is a close look at some of Aria’s biggest technological advances and the issues they raise.

The Autonomous Smart Room

Aria technicians ran primary and redundant fiberoptic networks to each of the hotel’s 4004 guest rooms, allowing for extensive in-room automation. When a guest enters a room, curtains automatically open, music plays, the TV activates and climate controls bring the room to a preset temperature.

If a guest leaves, the lights go out, curtains close, the TV and music shut off, and the temperature reverts to a preset, personalized setting. All room features (including the “Do Not Disturb” sign) can be manipulated with a Control 4 touchscreen room-automation remote control, or directly through the room’s HDTV. A forthcoming iPad app will also allow the tablet to double as a room remote.

Since guests register with the Aria’s data system, the hotel can store all room setting information indefinitely. If a guest returns a year later, their room can be prepped with the same lighting, entertainment and climate settings as during their previous stay.

Other elite hotels offer such advanced automation, but the Aria is the first to run the service to every room. On one level, it’s a gimmick. You can always get up to close the curtains or turn off a light. But, the real advance is still to come—hotel technicians are working on systems that would allows guests to control their room settings from across town through their cellphones. This could result in energy savings by allowing guests to turn off their a/c-saving energy usage as they could turn off their a/c when they leave—and turn it back on before they return to their rooms.

Augmented Realty

Once a guest’s smartphone is registered with the Aria, hotel attractions could push personalized notifications to the user. All the guest has to do is hit a button, and the agreement will be akin to a signature. And since the Aria is able to track cellphones while on resort grounds, the hotel will easily be able to send guests special features and offers depending on who they are and where they are standing at any given moment. Are you a known blackjack player? The resort can let you know about empty player chairs at the $25 tables. Like buffets and standing near the dining area? They can send you a digital coupon for $2 off your brunch.

The House Always Wins

Players will find slots, video poker and the other gambling standards throughout the Aria (after all, this is Vegas). But these aren’t just any gambling stations—they have updatable, changeable games controlled and monitored by the Aria’s 3000-square-foot data center. The stations, which have hi-def screens that are each run by a Mac Mini, give the house stats on which games are the most popular, allowing the control room to change them accordingly. One-dollar slots not doing well? Change them to a quarter. Video Poker beating out slots? Turn slot machines into poker machines with a keystroke.

Flexible gambling tech will be essential to other massive Vegas casinos in the future. Gambling is no longer the primary revenue producer in Sin City, with big-budget shows, spas and restaurants now eclipsing the gaming floor.

Visitors with a limited vacation budget want something for their money—like the memory of a special event or a lavish meal, and not a pile of vanishing quarters at the video-poker machine. When these risk-averse tourists gamble, they tend to weigh their chances and select their games more carefully. So, giving a casino the opportunity to create a more popular gambling machine should allow them to increase revenue.

Smartphone Key Cards

Over the next two years, biometric smartphones will drive further features at the Aria and other tech-forward hotels. “We want to get to the point where we can encode your cellphone so you can use it as your credit card, you room key and your Player’s Club card,” says John Bollen, CityCenter’s vice president of technology. “Guests would open their door or pay for a product or service with a specially developed app.” According to Bollen, an Aria app should also work at other MGM properties in Vegas.

And since every inch of the Aria is covered by what the hotel calls a “heat-sensitive” Wi-Fi network, phones are less likely to find themselves in dead spots. That heat-sensitive technology reads the density of activity on the network, and adds Wi-Fi muscle to parts of the grid that require more bandwidth.

While using a smartphone as a keycard or credit card certainly sounds appealing, it has obvious security risks, and it could prove difficult for customers to get comfortable with the idea. Hotels like the Aria will have to install multiple levels of encryption and data protection to prevent fraud and privacy violations.

Watching What You Eat

All dining facilities feature digital menus on the casino floor, at every gaming station and in the restaurants themselves. The Aria’s data-hub tracks how many people access the menus, what they access, when they access and what they order. The hotel’s food mavens can calculate how many people read the menu compared to how many eat in the restaurant, track what items are selling, and easily adjust menu selections and prices on the fly.

So far, hotel statistics indicate patrons who scroll through an entire menu tend to move on to something else. Those who stop halfway, though, often get a table.

In the recent past, it would have taken weeks of record keeping and analysis for chefs and restaurant managers to deduce what their top earners were. Now, the real-time, data-linked menus can immediately read trends from the dinner table and analyze it with a quick and easy cost–benefit table. This could be a problem for guests who enjoy less popular fringe items, which could be pushed off the menu.

Who’s Watching You?

The Aria’s Honeywell camera surveillance system—and those like it at other hotels—could eventually be used for more than security monitoring. The cameras can use facial recognition software to tell who’s coming and going, and to home in on VIPs to whisk them to the front of a line or shower them with special treatment.

But there are perks to Big Brother watching you—if you’re a VIP, that is. For example, if a guest has a Player’s Club Card, and his or her face is ID’d (or a smartphone detected), there’ll be no need to stand in line at the club. A concierge will scan for the right faces and phones before escorting those chosen people in ahead of the crowd.

When you combine such cameras with the smartphone network, no one—especially frequent guests—will be able to move around the property with anonymity. And for frequent guests, the hotel might know an uncomfortable amount of personal information—from what they eat, to what TV stations they watch.

Prefabulous and Sustainable: New Book Shows Prefabs Getting Better, Greener and More Mainstream

by Lloyd Alter, Toronto

As a long-time prefab proselytizer I approached Sheri Koone’s new book with some trepidation. I used to believe, as she still does, that “Prefab is intrinsically green” but don’t any more; where you build is fundamentally as important as what you build. I feared that the entire book would be filled with pretty houses in the country with columns and brackets and cupolas like the one on the cover. Or that it would make the argument that just being prefab was enough to make a house green. Fortunately, the book is better than that.

In fact there are quite a few houses that occupy relatively small footprints, are on urban sites and that are built with seriously green materials, such as this house in Durham, North Carolina by the design/build firm Studio B Architecture/ BuildSense. It was panelized and finished on site, and the architect writes:

The house is built on an urban infill site, it has correctly oriented and shaded openings, it is insulated with open-cell foam for superior r-value and extremely low air infiltration, and it has 2×6 exterior wall framing for a larger insulation cavity. We installed a high SEER, high velocity heat pump, a rinnai tankless water heater, ultra efficient appliances, and high performance windows & doors.

And that is not even in the section of the book labelled “greenest.”

In the greenest home section, we find TreeHugger stalwarts like Steve Glenn’s first Living Home, (TreeHugger here) Michelle Kaufman’s mkLotus, and others that are a lot more than just prefab, but really are green.

Perhaps the use of the word “sustainable” in the title is a bit of a stretch. It still has quite a few of the very expensive and very nicely put together little numbers like the Rebecca Leland Farmhouse . Even a roof full of photovoltaics is not going to make this sustainable, unless they garage the SUV and actually start farming.

But like so many coffee table design books, these are aspirational. We learned from Matt recently that Americans are not particularly interested in going green and making changes in their lives, and most evidently do still aspire to owning the house in the country. At least some discussion of green building will be on the coffee table.

I could complain about the size or location of many of the houses or the real definition of sustainability, or I could just acknowledge that Sheri Koones has curated an interesting and eclectic selection of more energy efficient, healthier and often very beautiful prefab homes.

More at Sheri Koones site

PAKSBAB’s straw-based earthquake-resistant houses

Posted by hipstomp

An article in the Economist on using straw as a building material drew our attention to Darcey Donovan, pictured above. Formerly of California, Donovan is a structural/mechanical/civil engineer and founder of PAKSBAB (Pakistan Straw Bale and Appropriate Building), which promotes straw-bale construction in earthquake-stricken northern Pakistan.0paksbab02.jpg

Why straw? In addition to being an excellent insulator,

Straw bale construction…offers numerous benefits, including energy efficiency, the use of natural non-toxic materials, and resistance to earthquakes, fire and pests. However, similar to modern conventional building methods, it typically requires the substantial use of energy intensive and high-cost materials, skilled labor, and complex tools and machinery, making it largely unaffordable for the poor.In response, PAKSBAB has developed simple, unique, low-cost systems that utilize indigenous renewable materials, local labor, and adapt traditional building techniques. Our houses are up to 80% more energy efficient at about 50% of the cost of conventional earthquake resistant construction.

In the following video, Donovan breaks the process down–and one of her houses, tested in an earthquake simulator by the University of Nevada, doesn’t break down.

Follow link for Video ->

Book: 1001 Building Forms

Posted by Lisa Smith

Not new, but definitely notable: Siteless: 1001 Building Forms, by Architect François Blanciak, was released to the academic architecture community for a little while now, but, after rediscovering it this morning on Jacket Mechanical and Lined and Unlined, we realized it has wide resonance and wanted to share it here.

Though the book is meant as a catalog of siteless building forms, all hand drawn from the same perspective, this book is relevant for formal thinkers at any scale, from sculptors to industrial designers. In particular, we’re wondering how this book might mix with interaction design and tangible interfaces: What would the pigtail towers do when combined with some flex sensors, for example?


If nothing else, the book sidesteps the often opaque written dialogue of architecture (just sayin’) and presents itself visually, accessible to a wide audience.

Order from Amazon.

Images from Jacket Mechanical