After the Void — How buildings can connect us to the natural environment
Do you open your windows on a beautiful day? An engineering firm explores innovative ways to get that harmonious, natural feeling year-round.
Buildings often act as a barrier to the outside world.
Natural assets like daylight and fresh air are frequently sacrificed to create controlled, predictable settings—think stale air conditioning and fluorescent lights in bummer office buildings. Transsolar is an international climate engineering firm that believes there’s a better way to construct, and enjoy, the structures we live, work, and play in.
“Our practice was founded with the intent of creating exceptional, climate-responsive environments that also minimize resource use,” says managing partner Erik Olsen.
By letting what’s happening outdoors directly influence how it feels inside—and for those indoor conditions to respond accordingly—an organic, ever-changing connection is created. “Do you open your windows on a beautiful day?” he asks. “Why not bring this kind of delight to every environment we create?
Client projects can range from a Rottenburg, Germany church resurrected with radiant heat to a school campus and residence in Lavale, India that stays comfortable all year long thanks to a uniquely engineered passive ventilation system. This kind of work is the core of Transsolar’s portfolio, and allows the firm to flex their commitment to making a difference through thoughtful, energy-efficient design. But they also take on temporary installations that break from more practical constraints, like Le Nuage Parfumé in Paris; this collaboration with Cartier allowed visitors to walk through an enclosed, scented cloud.
“These are more immediate and understandable expressions of what climate engineering is about, promoting the idea that we can think more intentionally about the environments we create for our daily lives,” Olsen says. “And, of course, it’s fun, and we always learn something that we can bring back to future projects.”
The learning continues with the Transsolar Academy, an annual fellowship program welcoming young specialists from across the globe to join forces for hands-on training in the “majority world” (commonly referred to as third-world countries). It’s a roster that includes an intentional mix of disciplines and nationalities: physics engineers, civil engineers, architects, and more.
“People with different backgrounds always have something to learn from one another,” Olsen says. “Technical rigor is critical in order to truly understand the physics of a situation, but we need creative spark and different viewpoints in order to keep the solution space as broad as possible.”
Ultimately, the folks at Transsolar hope to transform more than just urban design. “Most people don’t pay that much attention to the environment around us, and therefore our expectations are low,” he says. “I’d love to see the public demand more of their built environment.”
This article was originally published in Issue 14 of the Mohawk Maker Quarterly. The Mohawk Maker Quarterly is a vehicle to support a community of like-minded makers. Content focuses on stories of small manufacturers, artisans, printers, designers, and artists who are making their way in the midst of the digital revolution. Learn more about the quarterly here.
Issue No. 14 of the Mohawk Maker Quarterly is titled Lead & Serve and celebrates those who pave the way by helping others find their paths.