EFdeN VATRA – A prototype for Solar Decathlon Europe 21/22 inspired by the Living Building Challenge imperatives

Back in 2013, a group of students from Bucharest, Romania, envisioned a world with sustainable communities where people are living a high-quality life. They thought that sustainability was achievable by anyone. So, the EFdeN journey began.

The EFdeN name comes from f[N] – where N is Nature. Nature is at the core of everything the team does as they try to protect it and bring it closer to people. Since 2013, EFdeN has been helping students and young professionals find a sense of direction while providing an environment to apply their creative energy through a trial-and-error process. Facilitated by the Solar Decathlon competitions, EFdeN has attempted to be at the forefront of everything related to sustainability in Romania, from law & policymaking to education and development of the cities. Briefly:

  • 10+ projects implemented with 1000+ volunteers,
  • 50+ awards, 3
  • 300+ partner companies involved.

After taking part in two Solar Decathlon competitions with EFdeN 4C in 2014 and EFdeN Signature in 2018, the team was ready for another challenge, ready to go urban for the Solar Decathlon Europe 21/22.

In a world that faces climate change, Solar Decathlon is a collegiate competition that has inspired thousands of students worldwide to enter the clean energy workforce since its launch in 2002. Today, the ten contests that are the foundation of Solar Decathlon challenge students to design and build high-performance, low-carbon buildings that mitigate climate change and improve our quality of life through greater affordability, resilience, and energy efficiency. The winners are those teams that best blend architectural and engineering excellence with innovation.

For the 21/22 edition, the competition took a novel approach, centring around the value-added renovation, transformation, or reuse of existing buildings for densifying cities.

The whole project is divided into a design challenge for a whole building project (similar to an architectural design competition) and the challenge to deploy the design, build and operate a Demonstration Unit.

The Design Challenge and how EFdeN tackled it

This challenges the Teams to plan a whole building for one existing urban situation. With this link to reality, SDE21 promotes comprehensive solutions for the sustainable improvement of urban living.

Inspired by the Living Building Challenge, EFdeN developed a design strategy.

… to adapt to today’s social structures

According to a survey by Eurostat, single adult households without children rose by 20.3 % between 2010 and 2020.

Tackling the idea of future living scenarios- single-person households, in EFdeN VATRA, three typological modules are single-living apartments. Also, to regain the connection with natural elements and enable personal food production, the last one is a private greenhouse module that is to be attached to each individual living unit.

… to regain the sense of belonging

Data from the European Commission in 2018 shows that thirty million European Adults reported frequently feeling lonely. That is 7% of Europe’s population.

In response to the epidemic of loneliness in Europe, EFdeN VATRA proposes revisiting the concept of the Romanian hearth.

VATRA is the core of the concept. It is the space wherein a traditional Romanian house the family gathered, but also the place where the community met within the traditional village, a place full of joy, dance, and stories. By placing the common spaces in the centre of the building, people are to enter them before entering their private units, enabling interaction with others. Just like in the hearth.

… to combat resource scarcity

As resource scarcity is aggravating across Europe, VATRA is a design strategy for single dwelling housing that could be implemented within the existing urban stock with minimum resource consumption. The design aims to maximize the amounts of living units whilst at the same time providing adequate comfort conditions for each resident.

… to achieve scalable, affordable, and easy to implement dwellings

As the revitalisation of urban building stocks is the key focus of the SDE21/22, the VATRA design strategy consists of four different modules that could be combined to suit the typical European urban scenarios.

VATRA Algorithm

Optimum efficiency of space and prefabrication can be achieved by working with DFMA design, meaning prefabricated modules that work as individual apartments were generated. They are assembled in a Lego-like structure. EFdeN is creating a general approach in the form of a design algorithm that they are currently developing. It is inspired by Bin Packing algorithms and its purpose is to generate for any kind of site optimal space configurations using these modules.

For the SDE 21/22 competition, EFdeN applied this strategy, proposing the renovation and addition of storeys to an existing industrial building in Wuppertal, Germany. At the same time, the proposal for the outdoor area to create a new

Besides designing an intervention to suit the characteristics and needs of the targeted group, the proposal also seeks to give something back to the community and the city. To provide interaction spaces for the neighbourhood, the existing area behind the building was designed in order to accommodate multiple activities and to fit the necessities of a large group of users in the district.

The house demonstration unit

The demonstration unit is a full-scale, fully functional representative part of the design project. It will fit into the slots on the solar Campus within the solar envelope and demonstrate the key features of the whole Team project entry.

What will the EFdeN VATRA prototype look like?

Renderings and simulations are great during the idea generation process, but the only foolproof way to test those is a prototype that can be physically operated, the EFdeN VATRA Prototype. After the Solar Decathlon Final and after finding a final location for the prototype, the team will embark on a new journey, rebuilding the prototype in Romania and trying to obtain the Living Building Challenge Certification.

The private area of EFdeN VATRA consists of one living unit module to test efficient minimal single dwelling and one greenhouse for nature integration. The public area consists of a space emulating a common room to test how people interact and a terrace to promote green mobility.

Designed for manufacturing and assembly VATRA reduces the costs of production, transport, maintenance, and utilities. To build it, only natural and recycled materials were used. The structure is made of prefabricated, modular walls with thermal insulation made of straw and old newspapers, taking a few days to assemble.

VATRA is equipped with a minimum number of Bifacial PVs, less space, and more energy! The energy produced by the bifacial PVs will be stored in second-life batteries from electric cars. Electric vehicle batteries that can no longer be used for their original purpose are configured and reused to create a sustainable storage system, part of our circularity concept.

The energy required to maintain a comfortable interior environment is greatly reduced by the smart integration of phase-changing materials. Just like a thermal battery, they store the night’s coldness and use it to cool down the warm outside air entering the house during the day, reducing the need for energy-intensive air conditioning.

The EFdeN VATRA prototype and the other SDE 21/22 prototypes could be visited between 10 – 28 June, along with other events relevant for sustainable development, following this programme.

[Article courtesy of EFdeN]