Voralberg, Austria | Day 2

Our second day of excursions in Austria started with an amazing breakfast at the Schwanen Bio-Hotel in Bizau. Right after, we jumped on the bus and drove to the nearby town of Bezau to see the Sicherheitszentrum Bezau (or Bezau Security Center), which is home to the local police department as well as the local fire station. The building, completed in 2014, was designed by architect Hermann Kaufmann in cooperation with DI Ralph Broger GmbH and QUERFORMAT ZT GmbH.

The goal of reaching the highest sustainability standards is achieved by using untreated laminated timber throughout the entire project. Timber frame is used for the load bearing walls, while spruce cladding covers the exterior timber walls. A wood and concrete composite system is adopted for the floors. All the wood is locally harvested in the Voralberg region.

The lower floor has a 7 meter high ceiling and it hosts the fire trucks and the police vehicles. On the upper level a series of offices and utility rooms are lined up to face a wide glazing that opens up to a beautiful valley. Despite the extremely practical use of the building (populated with tools, machinery and training rooms), the interiors felt warm, calm and somehow intimate.

Right after this first visit we stopped by the Michael Kaufmann Zimmerei und Tischlerei (Carpentry and Joinery). As we stepped inside the rectangular workshop we faced a long assembly line occupied with timber modules at different stages of completion.

Michael Kaufmann gave us a personal tour through the factory and explained how his company specializes in 2D and 3D prefabricated construction. Rather than having the carpentry work done on a construction site, the modules are built and assembled as much as possible inside the workshop. This system allows for great rapidity and precision, allowing the carpenters to work in a more comfortable and safe environment than the construction site.

During our visit to the Zimmerei, workers were busy assembling and refining rooms for a hotel project in Austria (for a top secret client). With their prefabricated system the Zimmerei carpenters can finish three rooms in about five days (with finished interiors including the wet walls)! Then all they have to do is lift the modules, drive them to the construction site, and in a very short period, assemble the final product.

What is noticeable in these buildings is the use of untreated wood, both for the structure and for the interior details, that produces clean and healthy interior spaces. In addition the high quality of the details generates simple but extremely enjoyable spaces.

Written by Chiara Bonsignori, Photos by Michael Rahmatoulin


Voralberg, Austria | Day 1

Amidst our workload and the approaching deadline for DOE, our group was able to take a short break by visiting the region of Vorarlberg in Austria. Our team was joined by Honza Zenlicka and Charles Upshaw who came to Munich to work along-side us for the week. The day’s tour consisted of visiting the buildings of architect Hermann Kaufmann, known for his innovations in wood construction.

Our first stop was the IZM (Illwerke Zentrum Montafon), one of the biggest office buildings constructed with wood. The office serves a nearby hydroelectric power plant and is constructed using a hybrid timber building system. One of the things that I liked most about this building was how the architects designed around the site, jutting the building over a small lake and framing views of the picturesque landscape of the surrounding area. Despite its beauty, the building is so efficient that there is almost no heat loss or gain and thus there are few problems with energy consumption. After the tour we were treated to lunch in the cafeteria with excellent food and wonderful views of the Alps

Our next stop was the construction site of Frima Wagner, an expansion project for a local contactor’s office. It was very helpful to see the work in progress and how the wood panels, beams and columns were placed. We also visited the Leuchers Community Center (Gemeindezentrum) which cleverly utilizes solar panels to provide shade over the main patio. Lastly we also had a chance to explore the LCT One, which boasts of being the tallest wooden construction standing at 30 stories high. This last building was truly unique for its custom construction method and it’s role in energy efficiency and sustainability. Walking through some of the offices we were told first hand of what a pleasant environment it is to work there.

One of things that I noticed in all of the buildings was that they had a fresh and calming nature to them. Our tour guide told us that all these buildings were built with chemical free and environmentally friendly materials that would offer good air ventilation and offer a chance for the materials to be touched and appreciated by their texture.

The day’s tour ended in the Hotel Schwanen Bizau, a bio hotel also designed by Kaufmann Architects and surrounded by the most marvelous view of the Alps.

Written by Miren Urena, Photos by Michael Rahmatoulin

Jan Cremers Lecture

Membrane structure specialist, Professor Jan Cremers, was invited to share his experience and advice with Team Texas-Germany. He began with a comprehensive explanation of the fundamental basics behind why and how one would erect a membrane structure. A multitude of structural strategies were introduced accompanied by an extensive analysis of its strengths and weaknesses. The lecture allowed the team to see the entire breadth of precedents to employ a tensile fabric to a building. Professor Cremers was also the lead Project Architect in the home+ building entry for the 2010 Solar Decathlon Europe, leading the team to great success and ultimately placing third overall. He gave us insight into the nature of the Solar Decathlon competition that we would never have known without personally hearing from past participants.

After soaking up the amazing breadth of wisdom offered to us, the team proceeded to present our project in order to allow Professor Cremers to critically analyse our proposal. It was an eye-opener to the reality of construction and was extremely helpful. The Texas-Germany team thanks Professor Cremers for his visit and input to reorient our design direction and to spur it towards a brighter, promising horizon.

Written by Henry Wen, Image courtesy of Jan Cremers

Visiting Augsburg and Binswangen

Time flies, our third week in Munich is over and as usual there is a lot of work to do, but most of all there are interesting people to meet and great places to visit. On Wednesday we visited Apostelin-Juni Kirche in Augsburg where we had a guided tour with Frank Lattke, the church’s architect, through the all-wood church located in Sheridan Park. He explained the reasons behind some major design decisions -like acoustics, natural lighting, and material in the building, and how important it was to have the community involved in its design and construction. We were also able to present our project to him, and get valued feedback on our design and material decisions for our house.

After enjoying some German snacks and pastries in Augsburg, we headed to our second destination in Binswangen, Gumpp & Maier. Here we met with the company’s architect, Sebastian Hernandez-Maetschl and learned more about the company’s profile pre-fabricated wood houses, as well as toured the factory where the house modules are assembled. Gumpp & Maier produces on average 60 homes per year and most of the energy they consume is generated with solar panels installed in the roof of the factory. Sebastian also gave our team great advice on how to approach our construction while we constantly think about transport, delivery on site and assembly.

Text and photographs by Andrea Tosi

Building Feature | Národní Technická Knihovna

During our short stay in Prague we had the privilege of working in the Prague National Technical Library (NTK), designed by Czech architects Projektil Architekti. The Library houses an immense collection of books, over 1.2 million, and functions as a focal point on the university’s campus. The design was the result of a national competition with Projektil Architekti winning the bid. The design initially consisted of two separate buildings, but was consolidated into one structure, incorporating a parking garage underground. This formed a plaza in front of the main entrance and a much needed park just to the side.

The form of the building takes the shape of an oval to take advantage of the various sun positions throughout the year. The atrium acts as a light well that provides a sense of openness and brings in light throughout the day. The building is a standard concrete slab construction, but does something unique by opening up the ceiling level of each floor to expose the column supports as well as all the wiring and mechanical systems that run through the building. Climate is controlled through a combination of natural and mechanical ventilation. Using smart building technology, the users are able to monitor the temperature outside and inside to determine the optimal combination of cooling/heating strategies.

What is also fascinating is the exterior façade of the structure, a double layer design similar to a double skin but in reality the outer glass panels are separated, protecting exterior blinds that regulate light on the sides of the building. The glass panels also protect the building from wind, are easy to install, integrate well with a rounded form (as opposed to larger panels of glass that would need to be curved) and cleverly protects the library from thieves that could throw books outside a window.

By far, the most exciting part for me was seeing the roof of the building! It was a pleasant surprise to discover an expansive green roof covering most of the building. The green roof offers a higher r-value for the ceiling, helps drain rainwater and requires very little maintenance. It’s a shame the roof is not accessible to the public, as it offers both a fantastic view and surely a wonderful escape on sunny day.

We can definitely learn a lot from seeing this building up close. From the monitoring and sustainable strategies employed by the building to the small details in the design that make you appreciate the hard work that was put into the building.

Photographs and text by Michael Rahmatoulin

Adventures in Prague

Our second week in Munich not only included a lot of design but also an excursion to Prague! After a short train ride, we’ve reached the capital city of the Czech Republic.

First we visited the Prague Castle, with the St. Vitus Cathedral which stores the Czech Crown Jewels. We then visited the American Embassy and take a tour of their gardens which provided us picturesque views of the skyline of Prague. Along the Vltava River, you can see the Nationale-Nederlanden building.

Admiring the architecture and history of Prague was an unforgettable experience that we will always remember… and spend the train ride home sketching.

Written by Megan Recher, Photographs by Michael Rahmatoulin

Czech Team Meet-up

On Tuesday we met with the Czech Technical University team who participated in the Solar Decathlon 2013 with their “Air House” entry. Placed 1st in architecture and 2nd in engineering (among other accolades), the Czech team explained their project. They presented their project briefly, but more importantly, they presented their experience in the weeks leading up to the competition in Irvine. It was an insightful meeting and it was great to hear their stories about the competition.

It was great meeting not only the students but also the Czech team’s advisors. Mechanical engineer and sustainability expert Honza Zemlicka spoke about the importance of sustainability. It’s not every day that you hear a mechanical engineer stressing the importance of natural ventilation!

Overall it was not only insightful, but very inspiring to meet last year’s overall third place winner. Their passion and pride in their project spread to our own team, and everyone on Nexus Team is even more excited to be a part of the 2015 Solar Decathlon.

Written by Julia Park, Photographs by Alison Steele

First Week in Munich


Our first week in Munich got off to a quick start as we were introduced to our team’s Solar Decathlon proposal, and details of the next few weeks were discussed. With the overall design set, our group was divided into three teams to investigate the construction type, interior design and nexus unit design. Our team is a collection of upper level undergraduates and graduate students of architecture that each bring something unique to the project. Unlike a usual studio, which has us working on individual ideas, this studio focuses heavily on working in teams to further develop an existing design–something you normally get to do in a firm.

Each team has group leads that are in charge of overseeing the work of other students with specific tasks; this way work is delegated to make quick headway on the design, and allows us to meet a fast-coming deadline. With the October deadline approaching, we need to move quickly to produce the required Schematic Designs that constitute 80% of the project. With most students being new to the project, we needed time to understand the overall concept, which ultimately helped us start developing details and bring forward unique individual ideas to the table.

Later in the week, Andreas Danler was invited to meet with us to discuss our design and offer advice on providing natural lighting in the space. Andreas is the director of lighting applications, and is part of the management board at Bartenbach, a lighting design firm based in Austria. The discussions were very productive and some great issues were discussed that could offer new ways of bringing light inside the building. The advice was definitely invaluable and we’re grateful for all the advice.

Photographs and text by Michael Rahmatoulin