Solar Decathlon 2011 – Monday

Our second day at the Solar Decathlon 2011 allowed us to finish touring all of the houses except one (in all of the excitement we seemed to have skipped Maryland!). The day was moderately cloudy again and quite humid; I think it even gave Houston a run for its money. One of the highlights of our day was getting to interview Michael with the University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign) team. He gave us many new insights that I’ll be sharing in an extended post soon. If you missed yesterday’s recap, you can find it here. Now, four more homes from the competition:

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly (in no particular order) – Part 2:

Purdue – This one is causing quite a stir among the architectural community, and for reasons you may not guess. Judging from appearance, it does not stand out as an architectural gem, since it follows the tradition of many spec built homes. Even though this design doesn’t push the envelope, the familiar form and aesthetic is exactly why it needs to be included in the Solar Decathlon. While the looks may not be inspiring for the architecturally educated, it definitely relates to the every day consumer – this is most likely the way their home looks. By showing the general public that they can start implementing sustainable practices in their own home, the awareness and growth of the sustainable movement will continue. So love it or hate it, that is the point of the competition: to bring awareness and education to the public. As to whether this was the best application of that purpose – you’ll have to wait for my in depth review.

Solar Decathlon 2011 - Purdue

Solar Decathlon 2011 - Purdue

New York – Before coming to the Solar Decathlon, I briefly reviewed each team’s plans and drawings so that I could get an understanding of their concept and design. I’ll be honest – team New York concerned me from the beginning, but I was hopeful that it would pleasantly surprise me. I was wrong. New Yorkers are known for living in spaces barely larger than a shoe box, due to the limited space available in the city. With that lack of space, innovative storage and spatial responses are imperative to creating a space that is inviting and functional. The design of team New York’s home was definitely lacking in all of these areas. Not only did they commit a proper entry sin (welcome to the bathroom, visitors!), but their ‘bedroom’ was little more than a hallway with full size murphy bed…intended for a couple…to share…every night. Perhaps New Yorkers are short, thin and incredibly happy to sleep only on their sides at night, but from my personal experience, full size beds do not make good relationships. The interior of the living and dining areas looked very beautiful, but function sacrificed for beauty is a disservice to both. Storage was almost non-existent, as all of the wall paneling was merely a decorative touch that responded to the exterior. Speaking of the exterior, they definitely embraced the PV solar technology – a massive array appears to have landed atop the house and is making plans to take over the world (I suppose this is a good thing). I’m fine with embracing technology, but proportionally speaking, the house was swallowed by it.

Solar Decathlon 2011 - New York

Solar Decathlon 2011 - New York

Massachusetts – First of all, I never can spell their state correctly without auto-correct. However, I won’t hold it against them. After looking at the plans for their design, I was excited to see a lot of purposefully and thoughtfully designed flexible spaces. The plan indicated movable storage partitions that could transform multiple rooms into one large space or vice-versa. My only worry was how this would turn out in reality, as often, this type of solution can tend to look clumsy or simply  not work well. I’m pleased to say that not only did the rolling storage walls look beautiful, the spaces were well proportioned and worked very well in person. While I did not get an opportunity to move the walls myself, the mechanics (wheels on bottom with a top track above) seemed to be sufficient for their purpose. Massachusetts had a hallway area similar in size and length to New York, but theirs was occupied by a fold out desk rather than a fold out bed. This application was much more practical, and even when the desk is folded up the space can be still be used as egress to the bathroom.

Solar Decathlon 2011 - Massachusetts

Solar Decathlon 2011 - Massachusetts

New Jersey – This one surprised me. I waffled in the beginning as to whether I enjoyed the all-concrete exterior or whether I felt it was a bit too reminiscent of Le Corbusier’s Ronchamp chapel. After stepping inside, my vote swung to ‘like’ over ‘dislike’. The interior was quite roomy, and very bright. It was cool inside, unlike many other homes which made me wonder if I had accidentally stumbled into a ‘hot yoga’ class by accident. While I was pleased with the overall design, I felt the craftsmanship was lacking in the details. Concrete is a difficult material to master, and it was evident in the unrefined edges and transitions. While I can appreciate the direction this house is going, achieving a construction quality on par with Tadao Ando or I.M. Pei would bring this house to the next level. My one concern was the bathroom: it was extremely dark, which can create a breeding ground for mold.

Solar Decathlon 2011 - New Jersey

Solar Decathlon 2011 - New Jersey

We will be returning to the site this evening to capture some night photography and observe some teams sharing a meal together inside the homes. Keep checking in for more daily recaps – and s0on – more in depth articles. They should be controversial at the least, because we all know I call it like I see it.

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