Cloak Wall

February 16, 2010
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Environmentally-tuned wall system

Since Chicagoan George W. Snow first built a balloon-frame warehouse in 1832, residential construction in the United States has evolved very little. While a stick-frame house can be erected quickly and inexpensively, its disadvantages are numerous. It is generally an imprecise construction technology, leading to excessive waste of materials and energy loss. It is susceptible to fire, water, wind, and earthquakes.

Cloak Wall interrogates the residential wall. It is a full-scale wall prototype that explores energy conservation through alternative approaches to cooling, heating, ventilating, and lighting an inexpensive house. The wall is designed for quick assembly using stacked, high-strength, low-weight “exo-skeletal” bricks. A soft, “intelligent quilt” is suspended on this rigid outer shell to form the wall’s weather seal.

Cloak wall is self-supporting, clamped to its foundation by vertical tension cables. The geometry of Cloak Wall’s blocks allows them to slide along one another horizontally in order to adjust window size. Depending on orientation, one wall might have large, dilated openings to allow for more natural light or for views onto a landscape. Another side might have constricted openings to block intense southern sun or restrict a view. Additionally, as Cloak Wall’s panels are slid along one another, the wall can grow or shrink in height to create a sloped roof surface for drainage. By incorporating color-shifting paint borrowed from the automotive industry, the wall surface is able to either reflect or absorb radiant heat depending on whether the sun is high in the sky (summer = reflection = light color) or low (winter = absorption = dark color).

The “intelligent quilt” of each wall forms an interactive weather seal to control temperature, humidity, weather, light levels, and desired views. Layers of the quilt keep water out, provide insulation, carry utility lines, and acoustically soften the interior. For example, luminescent fabrics woven into the quilt supply interior light, recharging passively during the day. Air-filled pockets of transparent ETFE polymer allow insulation levels to be fine-tuned depending on outside air temperature (more insulation in extreme hot or cold temperatures, less in moderate temperatures).

Contact: HouMinn Practice, Edina, MN, USA.

For more information, see Transmaterial 3: A Catalog of Materials that Redefine our Physical Environment

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