Recently I visited the world-renowned home in Freiburg known as Heliotrope.  Designed by architect Rolf Disch in 1994, this environmentally friendly home on a hillside in the Vauban district catches the eye due to its unusual cylindrical shape.  However, there are far many more reasons to be interested in this home other than the shape.  For example it is the world’s first surplus energy home that creates up to 6 times more electricity than it consumes.  On this trip to Heliotrope, we learned that the architect still lives in this home with his wife, and after hearing all the perks that come with this home, I understand why. 

Heliotrope home in Freiburg, Germany produces up to 6 times more energy than it consumes.
Image taken from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heliotrope_(building)#/media/File:Heliotrop_Freiburg.jpg

            The name Heliotrope is inspired from heliotropic plants that follow the sun as it changes position throughout the day.  That is exactly what this home does! One side of the cylinder is almost completely coated in highly efficient triple-glazed windows and depending on the season, can follow the sun as much or as little as it wants.  In the winter, when heating costs are high, Heliotrope is constantly pointing at the sun throughout daytime so as to absorb as much heat as possible, whereas in the summer, the interior of the home stays cool as the highly insulated back side faces the sun at the hottest parts of the day.  This fact alone makes this home an architectural feat, but that’s not all!  One of the more interesting architectural elements of this home is that there is no stairwell.  Due to its cylindrical shape, Heliotrope is a series of semicircular platforms that move up in levels as you walk the diameter of the home.  More simply put, there is no first and second floor, each room is slightly raised above the next and can be accessed from the one next to it by taking only one or two steps upwards or downwards.  On the roof of Heliotrope exists a 600 square foot dual-axis solar photovoltaic tracking array.  This basically means that the series of solar cells are able to track the position of the sun throughout the day so that they are always pointing directly at it.  Another amazing component of Heliotrope is that its balcony railings are made of solar thermal water heating tubes.  Throughout the day, water is pumped in and out of these tubes and is heated solely by the suns energy.  Also, this home has a built-in geothermal heating system, as well as a rainwater capture and cleansing system and an on-site composting system.   All of this aside, Heliotrope has a very interesting aesthetic that most people find very pleasing. 

A view of the home’s massive moving solar array and the attractive rooftop deck.
Image taken from: https://inhabitat.com/heliotrope-the-worlds-first-energy-positive-solar-home/
A view looking out the home’s many triple-glazed windows.
Image taken from: http://www.rolfdisch.de/en/projects/das-heliotrop-2/
A view looking inwards at the circular layout of Heliotrope. Note the 3 different floor levels seen in this photo.
Image taken from: https://www.oregonlive.com/hg/2012/07/from_the_home_front_unusual_un.html

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