Solar Decathlon 2011 – Tuesday

Our third day on site at Solar Decathlon 2011 was experienced at a much more relaxed pace than the previous days. We got right down to business in the morning, starting with an interview of two Middlebury team members. The rest of the morning was spent getting any additional images we lacked, re-touring several houses that had been too crowded the day before, and finally dropping in to see Maryland’s design. The afternoon finished with the announcement of the affordability contest winners and an interview with a member from team New Zealand. Be sure to read the prior posts detailing Sunday and Monday, and stay tuned for more posts this week. First, congratulations to the Affordability contest winners:

First Place (tie): Purdue and Parsons The New School for Design and Stevens Institute of Technology

Second Place: Belgium

Third Place: The Southern California Institute of Architecture and California Institute of Technology

I don’t quite follow how a team can tie for first place if their construction costs are different (regardless of whether it is $1, or $1,000 – they’re different) – but the contests are based on point systems, and I never claimed to be good at math.

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly (in no particular order) – Part 3:

Florida International University – The design was thoughtful, practical and screamed ‘beach house’ (in a good way). I appreciated the dedication to making the design fully accessible, and that input on the design was taken directly from a handicapped student involved in the project. The exterior edible gardens were at a comfortable height for easy harvesting, and systems were placed at the rear of the home on the outside. Easily operable aluminum louvered panels can sit perpendicular to the home to provide shade in sunny Florida, or fold down to become hurricane protection when the inevitable storm arrives to interrupt vacation plans. Subtle design considerations made this a very understated and sophisticated design (acoustical fabric ceiling treatment, water storage tucked out of sight under the gardens, etc.). However, I do notice a striking similarity between the team’s design and their precedent, Paul Rudolph’s Walker Guest House. While the functionality is the obvious shared element, Florida International did a great job of refining the idea into something much more elegant in terms of mechanics and aesthetics.

Solar Decathlon 2011 - Florida International University

Solar Decathlon 2011 - Florida International University

New Zealand: Victoria University of Wellington – The Kiwi-inspired Bach (pronounced “Batch”, according to their strategically placed sign) is a visually striking design with a hint of mystery. I loved that the team embraced their regional materials and utilized not only local lumber and planted vegetation species but incorporated sheep’s wool as part of their wall assembly. An interview with team New Zealand revealed that this industry is a large part of their local economy, and that the insulating properties are similar to many batt insulation products. The home is intended as a retreat or holiday home, and provides sleeping accommodations for four guests and two owners. More impressive is the inclusion of a walk-in closet (a rarity in this competition), and innovative clothes dryer. The interior feel was comfortable, spacious and relaxing – exactly the intention of the design.

Solar Decathlon 2011 - New Zealand

Solar Decathlon 2011 - New Zealand

Tidewater Virginia: Old Dominion University and Hampton University – Reminiscent of a craftsman bungalow, this home provided a pergola covered deck with integrated water drainage. A sun room off the main entry serves as an exterior porch, or when desired, an interior sun room with the lowering of motorized windows. The traditional spaces were amplified with comfortable, familiar furnishings and carpentry trim. The exterior of the home achieved an excellent blend of hidden and exposed technology, with solar panels flush mounted with the surrounding roof. The technology was visible, but not imposing or distracting. The aesthetics were familiar to the majority of consumers, much like Purdue’s suburban design; however, team Virginia definitely comes out the winner for their subtleties rather than simple ‘retro-fit’ attachment styling. Interestingly, Virginia intends for their home to repeat up to six times to form a larger multi-family design.

Solar Decathlon 2011 - Tidewater Virginia

Solar Decathlon 2011 - Tidewater Virginia

The Southern California Institute of Architecture and California Institute of Technology – Call me biased. Call me judgmental. Or call me experienced. When I viewed the exterior images of this project on the website, I was excited to see how the team would address such an unusual shape on the interior. However, upon discovering their plan was a series of tiered platforms, I was concerned. Small homes broken into multiple smaller spaces is usually a one way ticket to making the interior feel small. While I’m happy that the interior felt far from small, it felt awkward instead. Narrow platforms were laid out in ascending strips that defined the various areas of the home from one another. The interior finish was plywood. Plywood, plywood and more plywood. Even with all the plywood, it finished 3rd in affordability, making me wonder if another material may have broken up the monotony without busting the budget. The details were lacking, and the furniture was haphazardly strewn about or stacked into corners. Storage cabinets were mounted to the ceilings, but with lofted spaces easily reaching 15 feet or more, accessing these could prove dangerous and difficult with a multi-level floor. While Casa Da Musica was not an official inspiration to the designers, the form is eerily similar, and the interior finish is the same – sans the gold leaf, of course. The exterior was definitely innovative: a fabric wrapped, tufted insulating layer filled with recycled denim. However, for all the innovation, the interior felt like a student project while its competitors were polished and professional.

Solar Decathlon 2011 - Team California

Solar Decathlon 2011 - Team California

Check in tomorrow for more recaps!

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