In high-density areas like the Taiwanese capital of Taipei, people have long looked to expand vertically to make use of the limited land, resulting in a lack of vegetation, high humidity and high energy usage. According to Unicode, a team of Taiwanese architects and designers, 50 percent of the county's housing constructions are either common multiple-story rowhouses or larger duplex apartment buildings, many of which have illegal makeshift shelters on their rooftops to provide extra living space. Unicode has developed a concept house which would give these shelters a greenhouse-inspired makeover, shifting reliance to renewable energy sources and improving Taipei's sustainability in the process.

The Orchid House design is inspired by the Taiwan's avant-garde greenhouse technologies that saw the prized Orchid flower develop into a mass-market commodity. The team says that integrating the technologies that already exist in an industrialized market will keep construction costs low and the housing more affordable.

The energy system is founded on a system where the leaves of the plant create dewdrops, the roots absorb water to be circulated through the stems and the leaves perform photosynthesis, creating a cycle of water and energy supplied to the entire plant.

Custom-made photovoltaic panels sit atop the roof to absorb sunlight, with the energy then converted to heat via a solar thermal water device, creating a hot water system that flows underneath to radiate warmth from below the floor.

In the summertime, louvers are opened to let air filter through a smaller water tank causing an evaporative effect, with the cooler air then circulating the house before being drawn outside by silent fans on the opposite side.

The west side of the house is lined with a 30 cm (11.8 in) thick wall filled with 6-liter (1.58 US gal) water-filled bottles made from recyclable polyethylene terephthalate (PET). The team says that this thermal wall is vital for the building to store heat for the winter months, while rejecting warmth during the summer.

The east side of the house features swinging doors which open up to a shade-filled decking and allow extra air flow through the home.

In terms of the layout, the team have figured in their plans space for a bathroom, kitchen, living room, work station, bedroom, terrace space and a "Green Core." The core is walled with vegetation to assist with cooling in the summer and encloses a staircase leading up to a mezzanine. Outside is a a terrace space with planting areas that are integrated into the water system and sustained via drip irrigation.

The team claims that the Orchid House concept has the potential to generate 987 gigawatt-hours (GWh) of energy per year. It also says that 20,448 tons of rainwater will be collected each year, reducing the burden on sewerage systems, keeping the houses cool and watering vegetation which will help to alleviate heat in the city.

In addition to the impact the Orchid House could have with regards to sustainability, Unicode says that its overarching objective is to revamp the social housing system in Taiwan and create low-cost housing options for disadvantaged groups. It anticipates that if the Orchid House design were to be implemented, it would drive the percentage of social housing in Taipei from where it currently sits at 0.64 percent, up to 12.71 percent.

Team Unicode will be showcasing the concept at the Solar Decathlon Europe 2014 in Versailles in June and July. Following the competition, the team will submit the Orchid House as a proposal to the Ministry of the Interior of Taiwan.

You can hear an explanation of the concept in the video below.

Source: Orchid House