Solar Decathlon

Antonina Ilieva by Antonina Ilieva,
07 October 2011

Image: Stefano Paltera/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon

In a 2009 Design Boost interview Bjarke Ingels shares some very reasonable observations on sustainability within contemporary architecture that to me still sound like the ultimate manifesto of what architecture's environmental awareness should be like at its beautiful best: "Sustainability is somewhat misunderstood - it has turned into a sort of a new protestant idea that it has to hurt in order to do good. And I think sustainablity is only ever going to take over if it increases the quality of life rather than being a question of giving away some of the things that you like to do. The way to make sustainability attractive is to not make it a moral or a political issue. It's rather a question of out-battling the existing alternatives - people are not going to choose a car just because it is sustainable but if sustainable cars are really great, they are going to use them."

It has been a week since the last exhibition day in the Solar Village at the West Potomac Park in Washington that concluded the 2011 U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon. The Solar Decathlon is a bi-annual international competition that challenges 20 university-led teams to design, build, and operate the most attractive, effective, and energy-efficient solar-powered house. The first Solar Decathlon was held in 2002. Close to a hundred solar houses have come to life since, that have revealed a lot of creativity to match a seriously mature manifestation of environmental responsibility as well as a lot of admirable courage to take things further than the drawing board - be it material or virtual.

Image: Stefano Paltera/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon

The set of criteria against which the houses are judged covers a broad range of issues not solely relevant to architectural design and also not at all limited to only inventive use of solar technology. The point evaluation system covers the following 10 major aspects of the designs, their realization and even the teams' conduct throughout the time of the competition. The criteria are roughly divided into two groups of five, the first of which tackles the overall characteristics of the building as such: 1. Architecture; 2. Market Appeal; 3. Engineering; 4. Communications (PR strategy of promoting a particular design); 5. Affordability (Teams can earn the maximum possible 100 points for achieving a target construction cost of $250,000 or less.). The second group of evaluation criteria has to do with the sustainable traits of the building : 6. Comfort Zone (referring to maintaining steady environmental conditiojns in the house); 7. Hot water supply while relying solely on solar power;  8. Appliances (referring to the inventive employment of environmental principles to reduce the necessity of using domestic appliances; 9. Home Entertainment (making sure the competing building possess all the commodities that create the homey feel of a house);10. Energy Balance (determining if a solar house produces at least as much energy as it consumes). The winner of the competition is therefore the team that best blends affordability, consumer appeal, and design excellence with optimal energy production and maximum efficiency.

While it is up to the Solar Decathlon's jury to take a detailed look at the teams' concepts and monitor their development throughout the whole competition, what I have come to appreciate greatly about this competition is the fact it has paved the way for creating among the architects of tomorrow a climate of appreciation of both the pros and the cons of sustainability. Bearing in mind how hard it is to make sensible architecture even without the limitations of sustainability, the elegant user-friendly integration of the solar technology into the design of these houses and the very convincing rendering of the projects in reality are well worth an applause for all the competing teams.

Image: Jim Tetro/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon

The winning entryWaterShed by Team Maryland

Watershed is a model of how the built environment can help preserve watersheds everywhere by managing storm water onsite, filtering pollutants from greywater, and minimizing water use.

 

Image: Jim Tetro/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon

4D Home by Team Massachusetts

The 4D Home is designed to achieve Passive House standards, greatly reducing the energy needed for heating and cooling. 

 

Image: Jim Tetro/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon

CHIP by Team California

A vinyl-coated fabric mesh protects the CHIP house and contains the "outsulation" that envelops the structure.

 

Image: Jim Tetro/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon

E-Cube by Team Belgium

The compact form of E-Cube minimizes thermal energy loss through the building envelope.

 

Image: Jim Tetro/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon

Empowerhouse by Team Parsons NS Stevens

Empowerhouse will consume up to 90% less energy for heating and cooling than a typical home in Washington, D.C.

 

Image: Jim Tetro/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon

enCORE by Team Ohio State

A simple software application controls lighting, mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems in enCORE.

 

Image: Jim Tetro/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon

ENJOY House by Team New Jersey

An inverted‐hip roof that allows for rainwater collection at the ENJOY House.

 

Image: Jim Tetro/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon

First Light by Team New Zealand

The decking in First Light runs not only around the house but also through the center, allowing occupants to effectively live outside during summer and bringing a sense of the outdoors inside during winter.

 

Image: Jim Tetro/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon

FLeX House by Team Florida

If necessary to expand the living space, new modules can be added to the base of FleX House.

 

Image: Team Hawaii

Hale Pilihonua by Team Hawaii

Hale Pilihonua was build highly buoyant and it is able to float in the event of flooding.

 

Image: Jim Tetro/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon

INhome by Team Purdue

The exterior of INhome could blend in well in a typical Midwestern neighborhood, but if you take a closer look at it you will notice the self-watering biowall with vertically arranged plants.

 

Image: Jim Tetro/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon

Living Light: UT Solar Decathlon House by Team Tennessee

The Living Light House created an energy efficient living area connected spatially and visually to the landscape outside.

 

Image: Jim Tetro/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon

perFORM[D]ance House by Team Florida Int'l

The design of the perFORM[D]ance House incorporates lightness and open spatial continuity.

 

Image: Jim Tetro/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon

Re_home by Team Illinois

The exterior paneling of Re_home is made from rice husks, common salt and mineral oil, but could be personalized with different finishes.

 

Image: Jim Tetro/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon

Self-Reliance by Team Middlebury College

Self-Reliance house has a green wall in the kitchen and outdoor planters that provide space for growing fresh produce year-round.

 

Image: Jim Tetro/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon

The Solar Homestead by Team Appalachian State

The Solar Homestead appears to be a secure investment for the experienced homebuyer through energy independence, modular adaptability, and long-lasting, sustainable materials.

 

Image: Jim Tetro/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon

Solar Roofpod by Team New York

The team from New York suggested a modular dwelling unit design with components that can be arranged in multiple configurations.

 

Image: Jim Tetro/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon

TRTL – Technological Residence, Traditional Living by Team Canada

The design of TRLT is guided by a holistic view of the home as a living part of a greater natural order and thereby represents a house that promotes sustainability.

 

Image: Jim Tetro/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon

Unit 6 Unplugged by Team Tidewater Virginia

Unit 6 is conceived of as part of a larger, six-unit multifamily building, which becomes more affordable by sharing infrastructure costs between other units of the building.

 

Image: Jim Tetro/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon

Y Container by Team China

Y Container creates more opportunities to view the varying landscapes in the different sections of the yard.

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