E Cube: The Perfect Marriage of DIY & Affordable Passive House Design?


Something impressive is developing on the green building front in Belgium. And it has nothing to do with LEED or some grandiose skyscraper.

It’s a home that does much more than house people. It will enable more people to own their own homes, while increasing their self reliance, and reducing the impact they and their home have on the planet.

The E Cube does many things that individually have been achieved elsewhere, but rarely have they come together like this:

  • Rather then depend on the expertise of an architect or contractor to make your home, E Cube is able to be built by people with no specialized skills, using normal, familiar, easily accessible tools.
  • The structure is based around Passive House standards, which in this case means that a conventional heating system will not be needed, saving on both cost to build and energy consumed.
  • A completely sufficient basic house can affordably be purchased by someone, and is from there expandable in a plug and play style design, where additional structures and components such as solar arrays can be easily added, again without specialized tools.
  • The E Cube is built around an industrial pallet racking system, which helps realize savings due to an already familiar and common structure, with standardized connections. This, at least in Belgium, is already regulated and in accordance with building codes.

So what you have is a house that is easy to build, uses minimal energy, is affordable, expandable, and acceptable to local building codes. Whether or not this proves to be the case outside of Belgium is still be seen, but either way, E Cube is an example for other housing developers to model themselves after.

Green building without affordability is missing its true potential for impact. Cheap housing that has a large impact or expensive energy/maintenance is short sighted. Integrating the two while allowing the owners to take full responsibility for building and expanding it as they choose is a powerful synergy.

Readers: Where else in housing/architecture are you seeing such an intersection of smart design, affordability, and accessibility?


Paul Smith is a sustainable business innovator, the founder of GreenSmith Consulting, and has an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco. He creates interest in, conversations about, and business for green (and greening) companies, via social media marketing.

Image Credit: Ghent University Solar Decathalon

Paul Smith is a sustainable business innovator, the founder of GreenSmith Consulting, and has an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco. He creates interest in, conversations about, and business for green (and greening) companies, via social media marketing. || ==> For more, see GreenSmithConsulting.com

6 responses

  1. The declared goals – passive climate control, DIY, low cost – are laudable, but unsupported (except the DIY part). The energy performance is dependent on orientation and design, and it appears this kit of parts could just as easily create a hotbox or an icebox. Moreover, the architectural syntax is going to be inappropriate for many climates (that’s fine, but needs to be recognized).
    There is obvious elegance and flexibility in having separate structural and cladding systems, but as Modernist architecture has proven repeatedly, this redundancy adds cost.
    Most troubling, however, is the aesthetic, which is singularly minimalist, whereas individuals have endlessly varying aesthetic demands.

    1. Aesthetically speaking, Frank, the Cube looks more substantial– and safer– than a tent. Simplicity has its own beauty.
      The thinking behind the Cube offers hope for affordable housing to the survivors of natural disasters. Those of Haiti and New Orleans come immediately to mind. As a prototype, it’s bound to be altered to suit the various markets.
      We seem to have no national housing policy in the US. Which could be adapted to this new form. One problem will be out-dated building codes and the entrenched mass housing builders’ monopolies. Some folks butter their bread with the results of legal codes and restrictions. Nothing new there.
      “Endlessly varying aesthetic demands” are the prerogative of the middle-class and the wealthy, but there are plenty more of the frugal & ‘just getting by’ income who need housing and will make the Cube their own in short order. It looks to me like a blank canvas, just waiting to be varied.

Leave a Reply