Solar Decathlon 2011 – Wednesday

Our last day on site included a morning interview with Ohio State University. The morning started out a bit soggy, but the clouds finally broke and the sun came out – a welcome respite from the endless days of clouds and rain. After tour hours the architecture contest winners were announced on Capitol Hill:

First Place: University of Maryland

Second Place: New Zealand: Victoria University of Wellington

Third Place: Appalachian State University

I’m very pleased to see these teams recognized for their very obvious accomplishments. Having toured them, they were all at the top of my list to win the architecture category. I can’t wait to see who will win the overall competition. It is a close match with so many outstanding entries. Keep checking in for updates, daily recaps and editorials (to be released soon)! If you missed the previous recaps, you can find Sunday, Monday and Tuesday by clicking the respective day.

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly (in no particular order) – Part 4:

University of Maryland – After inadvertently skipping the Maryland entry, I was glad to have visited the home at the beginning of the day before crowds arrived. The team really embraced the concept of regional sustainability, and created a design based on the principles of their local ecosystem. The design was practical, functional, flexible and beautiful. In plan, the design is a set of two rectangles offset from one another and separated in the middle by a bathroom. One rectangle contains the public areas: kitchen, dining, and living rooms. The second rectangle contains a fold-out study and bedroom which converts to a larger office area. The key in this design is the addition of a separate entry into the office space. It allows a homeowner to operate a small business from their office and invite clients inside without fears of showing off a dirty kitchen or living area. Another innovative idea came in the form of a de-humidifier prototype. A wall of liquid saline solution absorbs humidity from the air and helps relieve the load on the air conditioners. Maryland’s design was understated and very sophisticated. From the furniture to the plan, everything related back to their original concept and goals. It is a great example of what architecture is and what sustainable architecture should be.

Solar Decathlon 2011 - University of Maryland

Solar Decathlon 2011 - University of Maryland

Canada: University of Calgary – The design for Canada’s home was inspired by Treaty 7 Native Peoples culture. The construction of a dome-like form hints at the curvature found in traditional tipi design, and natural materials are found throughout the interior. While I can get behind inspiration from a local culture, I found team Canada’s interpretation of inspiration to be a bit literal. Swaths of canvas printed with traditional iconography were draped from the ceilings and walls as a allusion to tipi construction materials and native art. However, I don’t see this as a direct relation to the true culture of the people, but more as ornamentation. If these canvases were removed, would I still see the connection to the Treaty 7 Native People? The fundamental design considerations were similar to the tenants of every other home: large community spaces to encourage and facilitate fellowship. While this may be central to the Native People near Alberta, I would argue that it is central to cultures globally. By focusing on universal goals, the design will not stand out as unique among peers beyond its novel exterior form.

Solar Decathlon 2011 - University of Calgary

Solar Decathlon 2011 - University of Calgary

University of Tennessee – Glass boxes are not typically thought of as ‘sustainable’, but Tennessee proved that a completely glazed home can hold its own in a stiff competition. While the design is not intended for a family, it would easily support the lifestyle of a couple or individual. A compact plan has a small core at each end, serving as anchors for the double glazed walls between. A row of mechanized shades is sandwiched between the two glass layers to control light and heat. The kitchen, though small, conceals clutter behind an operable panel when guests arrive. A modest living area is adjacent to a murphy bed which tucks away when needed. The flooring changes at the back entrance adjacent to the bathroom to account for muddy feet transitioning inside. While some consumers may find the idea of living in a glass box unappealing, masters such as Philip Johnson have proven that there is an appetite for a minimal, glazed home.

Solar Decathlon 2011 - University of Tennessee

Solar Decathlon 2011 - University of Tennessee

China: Tongji University – When I heard that team China had utilized shipping containers for their main design component, I chuckled at the appropriateness of the decision. Shipping container design is becoming quite popular, and I was curious as to how the team would address the problem often associated with container architecture: constricting dimensions. The design solution was unique, and the interior felt large. The plan was an arrangement of 6 shipping containers, organized in pairs so that they formed a triangle where they met at their corners. The radial pattern of the containers allowed public and private spaces to be easily defined, and the inclusion of movable walls made the design completely modular. It was exciting to see walls slide down ceiling tracks and open up two rooms into one larger space. The possibilities of connecting multiple home units becomes very practical, as illustrated in the team’s marketing materials. I especially appreciated that the team applied their triangular central form to every aspect of the design, reinforcing the ‘brand’. Decking sections, modular furniture pieces, marketing brochures, and even their team photo all incorporated the triangle somehow. While non-essential, these extra touches brought the design together and gave credibility to the notion that they thought through every aspect of their design.

Solar Decathlon 2011 - China: Tongji University

Solar Decathlon 2011 - China: Tongji University

Be sure to tune in tomorrow for more recaps, and be sure to check out the prior articles if you missed them: Sunday, Monday, Tuesday.



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