The concept of the house takes its inspiration from the brazilian culture diversity and plurality. The indian heritage is taken as a starting point, a matrix of this cultural mosaic that unites our national identity.
Hence the name “Ekó”, original from the Tupi-Guarani language, which means “living” or “way of living”.
We seek the dialog between different ways of building and living, a closer relationship between public and private, between built and natural environment. Using both high-technologies and traditional techniques.
Blend between Brazilian tradition and high technology
The Solar Decathlon Europe 2012 Brazilian house takes its inspiration from the native Tupi-Guaranis, bringing out a brazilian way of living that portraits the cultural miscigenation and adaptability of its people to adversities in different Brazilian climates, living in harmony with all nature cycles. The name Ekó in Tupi-Guarani means “living” or “way of living”.
The Ekó House shares with the Tupi-Guarani culture the importante of the Sun as the main regulator of life on Earth. For the natives, the Sun also has a significant religious meaning, they focus on the Sun for the spiritual force of their lives. The relation of the Ekó House with the indian culture highlights the integration between human life and nature, reinforcing the relationship with natural cycles, in opposition to the idea of the house as a separation between man and natural environment.
The verandas of the house change throughout the day and year to adapt to different uses and weather. This traditional element synthesizes the dynamics of the Brazilian home, based in the duality of privacy and social life. When closed, they create an intimate and shaded environment. When open, they integrate external and internal spaces, creating a more public space, allowing the entrance of sunlight and heat. This movement and changes resemble a living being that adapts to the dwellers moods, nature cycles and local climate.
The Ekó House blends local and traditional solutions with high performance technologies, searching a combination of these elements. Traditional elements are associated to high performance walls, windows and doors. They provide and intimate space controlled by an automation system that integrates weather information with the dwellers needs and the energy provided by photovoltaic and thermal panels. But, above all, the house aims to act as a living being in harmony with the environment, developing all its processes in a cyclic way, diminishing the impact of man on Earth and benefiting humanity.
Flexibility is a key feature of the Ekó House. To assure a flexibility of configurations for different family types, its important a definition of a modular constructive system and also internal spaces with flexibility of furnishing. Through this flexible systems, the house can offer its users larger spaces and dynamic lay-out configurations.
The internal space is constituted mainly by the necessary furniture for each moment, adapting to the different times of the day or activities developed by the dwellers. The internal space also supports the Brazilian life style, that culturally uses the kitchen as the place for family gathering. We sought to rescue this Brazilian tradition that is being lost due the reduction of room sizes in contemporary buildings. The connection of the kitchen with the other rooms is improved by the lack of walls to separate it from the dining room, making it all a large social area.
The modular constructive system facilitates the increment in size through the use of different modules that connect to the existing ones. The verandas also contribute to this flexibility of space. When the shading devices are open, they constitute a space more open and welcoming to the external area. When they are closed, the space becomes an external area with a more intimate character, besides increasing the internal privacy of the house.
Prestressed wood panels using steel cables
The structural proposal of the Ekó House is being developed based on the necessities of modularity, efficiency and transportation. To ensure ease of assembly, we opted for an industrialized construction system in wood panels. The modules are constituted of a structure of wood beams and pillars, OSB panels and prestressed steel cables.
The prestressed cables unify the modules of the house, allowing large spans with small beams. This procedure reduces the amount of material and the height of the structure, allowing a higher ceiling.
The structure of beams and pillars of the modules and the OSB panels ensure the structural stiffness, avoiding lateral movement, and the prestressed steel cables, installed within the panels of ceiling and floor unify the system to act as a single piece.
The ease of assembly and disassembly, as well as the structural stability during transportation and lifting were decisive aspects to choose this structural option. This kind of prestressed system is used in bridges and large constructions, and we have note heard of it being applied in buildings of this size.
Environmental control through verandas
The verandas emerged in Brazilian housing as transition and filter to the natural environment. Besides their use known by the population as a leisure and socializing area , the veranda acts shading the façades and creating an area with intermediate temperature. They diminish internal heat gain, granting a more pleasant temperature in a simple way. We rescued this tradition, giving the Ekó House a Brazilian look that also assists in maintaining a pleasant internal temperature.
Integration of Photovoltaic panels to architecture
All energy used for the functioning of the Ekó House is obtained through Photovoltaic panels, that turn the sunlight into electricity. Despite still having a high cost, over time the evolution of technology and the increase in demand have allowed the price to decrease, turning this option, besides environmentally responsable, more economically advantageous.
The integration of Photovoltaic panels to architecture is an aspect mandatory for the mechanisms that regulate future urban planning. Experiences realized in these areas show that the use of those have a clear impact for more sustainable cities. We are developing integration systems that facilitate transportation and assembly of pre-fabricated modules, panels fixation, their maintenance and grant the water-tightness.
Systems’ module/Mechanical Closet
The systems modules constitute the technical nucleus of the Ekó House. They gather the essential equipments of the majority of the systems, allowing easy and fast access to modify the control parameters of the house and perform maintenance. These modules are built separately, in a modular way, facilitating transportation, assembly and updating. One module houses the electric and automation systems, and the other two are constituted by the hydraulic and thermal systems and the HVAC systems. Plug and play systems allow easy assembly, modification, disassembly and interchangeability. They define a system of pre-fabrication and industrialization with connections that allow speed and efficiency during assembly.
In a commercial perspective, it would be possible to easily update the modules or its components. Extrapolating this concept we get to the organization of eletric and hydraulic systems, as well as the integrated circuits, adopting hierarchical and independent routes between the systems. The displacement of the systems from the main core of the house reduces even more the impacts of noise, vibration and heat in its internal space.
Home automation and information
Home automation is done through the use of technology to facilitate and automate daily tasks that in a conventional house would be done by the dwellers. The home automation and information system of the Ekó House is structured according to four main guidelines: comfort, energy saving, information for the dweller and security. Each device or resource is applied according to at least one of these guidelines.
The development of the project of the Ekó House demonstrates that more and more home automation and information systems may act as information managers, besides enabling the integration of the house systems. For example, with a little metereological station in the outside of the house and internal monitoring of temperature and humidity, the programming of the automation system of the Ekó House will control shading devices and HVAC systems so the internal temperature is kept within the desired range.
The home automation and information system should gather all the house systems and act as a vehicle so that nature cycles are once more important in a high performance sustainable home, resembling houses built with traditional methods related to the environmental conditions of each region. This way, there is an evident tendency that efficiency and sustainability will be increasingly relevant at the household level, at the same time that automation and information systems will be more used.
With the correct and proper technology applied, the dwellers will have at their service the necessary means to carry on a more sustainable life style without reducing their comfort. Moreover, not only the house – with some of its functions automated – but the dwellers themselves will be able to contribute to the desired functioning of the house, with which they continuously learn.
Separation of black and grey waters and wetlands
Descentralized sewage treatment is an important instrument for the preservation of quantity and quality of water resources. The Ekó House has a differentiated system for the treatment of its effluents. Faeces and urine are disposed and treated in a waterless toilet, facilitating treatment and eliminating the waste of potable water for flushing. This traditional composting technology is being improved in Europe, indicating a possible direction for the future of the cities. These new technologies accelerate the composting process avoiding smells and the pollution of the environment.
The effluents from shower, washbasin and clothes washer will be treated by a natural hybrid system of filters planted with macrophytes (wetlands). The system, made up by filters and plant tanks constitutes a module that can be produced in different sizes, according to the number of inhabitants in the house. Besides being a garden itself, this system allows the reuse of effluents in agriculture and gardens, closing the loop of nutrients in nature.
Residences produce large quantities of waste that have a significant environmental impact. The integration of waste management systems in the house design should achieve a significant reduction of this waste without harming the health and comfort of the dwellers. The Ekó House uses a waterless toilet that carries composting in an efficient way. Besides that, the kitchen furnishing is developed in a way to maximize waste separation providing specific spaces for that.