The Cellophane House explores new paradigms for dwelling.
Peter Aaron/ESTO The Cellophane House explores new paradigms for dwelling.


CHALLENGE What will the house of the future look like? Not a new discussion, this question has challenged designers well beyond the past century. The topic is revisited at the Museum of Modern Art's exhibit, Home Delivery: Fabricating the Modern Dwelling, on view through Oct. 23, 2008. Of particular distinction are the five homes commissioned by the museum for the show. Tackling the issues of fabrication and dwelling head-on is the Cellophane House by KieranTimberlake Associates (KTA). Described by principal James Timberlake as “a matrix for holding things together,” Cellophane's construction process uses off-site assembly to explore new fabrication methods and the potential for integrating building systems including lighting.

The Cellophane House utilizes a wall assembly that incorporates layers of transparent PET and thin-film photovoltaics.
Peter Aaron/ESTO The Cellophane House utilizes a wall assembly that incorporates layers of transparent PET and thin-film photovoltaics.


SOLUTION For the exhibition, the house was constructed as a five-story single dwelling, but KTA's design is a system-based approach that enables it to be configured for both urban and rural settings, and single and multifamily units. “Procurement streams are changing,” Timberlake says. “We're interested in the idea of a system, but one that the individual can customize.”

The house's aluminum frame serves as the “foundation” to which all the other building components and systems connect, and it uses bolts rather than welds so it can be assembled and disassembled quickly. The structure's walls are made from NextGen SmartWrap, a proprietary system developed by KTA consisting of layers of transparent PET and laminated with thin-film photovoltaic cells. The transparency of the walls allows daylight to filter into the house, and the PV panels harness solar power so the building can function “off-grid.”

But the Cellophane House cannot rely on natural light alone for its illumination. That is where Arup Lighting stepped in. “We were challenged to create a lighting scheme and find a light source that would keep with the tenants of the house—modularity, efficiency, and recyclability,” says lighting designer Brian Stacy. “We chose LEDs because they offered us a lot of flexibility and allowed us to work in smaller increments so the lighting could be incorporated into the assembly process at the factory,” Stacy explains.

Light-emitting diodes (LEDs) provide electric lighting and highlight the house's structural frame.
Peter Aaron/ESTO Light-emitting diodes (LEDs) provide electric lighting and highlight the house's structural frame.


The lighting divides the house into two zones—the living spaces and the stairwell—and reinforces the horizontality and the verticality of these areas by embedding the luminaries into the structure of the house itself. Twelve-inch linear light-emitting diode (LED) arrays are installed in the channels of the aluminum frame uplighting the opaque acrylic floors while mapping an illuminated outline of the structural grid. For the stairwell, 6-inch LED arrays are recessed into notches on the underside of each tread.

The Cellophane House asks exhibit-goers to think about homes as a system rather than a stand-alone object. Embracing a new palette of materials and technologies, this integrated approach meets the challenges of 21st century dwelling head-on.

LEDs are notched into the stairwell treads giving them a soft glow.
Courtesy Arup LEDs are notched into the stairwell treads giving them a soft glow.


Project Cellophane House, Museum of Modern Art's exhibition, Home Delivery: Fabricating the Modern Dwelling, New York
Design Team KieranTimberlake Associates, Philadelphia (architect); Arup Lighting (lighting designer); Kullman Buildings Corp. (building integration assembly)
Photographer Peter Aaron/Esto, unless otherwise noted
Project Size 1,800 square feet 
Watts Per Square Foot 1.3 
Manufacturers Bosch Rexroth, Capital Plastics, CPI Daylighting, Dupont Teijin Films, Philips Solid-State Lighting Solutions, Powerfilm, Total Plastics, 3form, 3M