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Smart Material Houses


This project showcases the smart construction materials of the future. With its Smart Material Houses, the IBA is demonstrating new components that enable buildings and their façades to respond to change in a dynamic way. Smart Materials: Clever Materials that Use Energy from the Surrounding Environment.


“Smart materials” are materials, systems, and products that behave dynamically, unlike conventional building materials, which are static. This property allows them to react and adapt to environmental changes. Their particular characteristics are the result of physical or chemical influences upon the material, such as different temperatures or direct sunlight.

This means that the outer shell of the building is of prime importance. Through the use of smart materials as part of the façade, energy and material flows can be refined and kept as low as possible, as most of these substances draw their energy directly or indirectly from their surrounding environment.

Smart materials can be found in the natural environment. For instance, microalgae can be grown in glass modules on façades, where they can convert solar energy into thermal energy, biomass and heat through photosynthesis and solar thermal energy. The façade thus becomes part of the building’s technology.

Smart Material Houses: Sustainability Meets High-Quality Design

The Smart Material Houses mark a new type that combines adaptable structural design with smart technologies and building materials. They are being created as an architectural pilot project under one of the main themes of “The Building Exhibition within the Building Exhibition”, as the four model buildings demonstrate both how new technological approaches can be translated into forward-looking architecture, and how traditional techniques can be re-interpreted for the modern day.

In addition to their outer shells, the domestic engineering concept governing energy supply makes the Smart Material Houses as a whole particularly clever and advanced buildings.  For instance, the WOODCUBE, one of the four designs, uses a sophisticated domestic engineering concept to ensure that its construction and operation are carbon-neutral. This is made possible by centrally run building control and “smart metering”, which enables consumers to control and regulate their own consumption.

The Smart Material Houses also demonstrate that cutting-edge technology is not always necessary in order to achieve top results in terms of carbon neutrality. Indeed, massive wooden constructions that take a “low tech” approach to building materials can contribute to this, as they store carbon dioxide and thus prevent it from contributing to the greenhouse effect while the building is in use.

The overarching concept behind the Smart Material Houses acts as a spur for similar techniques to be used for other building projects, without losing sight of architectural quality or the needs of their users. Although the primary focus is on the outer shell of the building, it is important to remember that façade technology and design are not the only things to consider when selecting projects; as with all of the projects in ”The Building Exhibition within the Building Exhibition”, an overall concept comprising structure, materials, and energy approach has to be taken into account.

From Technological Concept to Four Prime Examples: the Process and Possibilities for Implementation

In order to address the theme of smart, dynamic building materials as part of the IBA, using experts to consider the current state of the relevant technology, the IBA Hamburg collaborated with the architectural journal ARCH+ on a workshop attended by international specialists, held before the work was commissioned. This helped to set out the scope of the operation and explore options for carrying out such a project.

As a result, the process of constructing the Smart Material Houses was split into three stages. The first stage was a bidding phase, with the subsequent choice of the teams that would participate, assembled using a multidisciplinary approach. The teams that went through to the second stage of the process worked on a design based on the concept that they had submitted, factoring in the overall plan for Wilhelmsburg Central.

The third stage comprised the allocation of the plots of land. Eight concepts were chosen to compete for the construction sites, and investors were offered the chance to be involved in implementing the designs.

Four of the eight concepts were finished by 2013: these were the BIQ from the SPLITTERWERK team, Graz; Smart is Green by zillerplus architects, Munich; the Soft House designed by Violich Architecture, Boston, and the WOODCUBE by the architektenagentur, Stuttgart.