AUSTIN, Texas—A group of architecture students from The University of Texas at Austin will build an 800-square-foot home-office this summer that they will soon afterward dismantle, load onto trucks and reassemble on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
The completely solar-powered structure will be one of 14 finalist entries by university students competing in the national Solar Decathlon in September-October. The competition is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the American Institute of Architects and BP Solar.
“One of the aims of the Solar Decathlon is to explore ways to reduce our dependency on fossil fuels,” said Jennifer Tullis, a graduate student at The University of Texas at Austin.
Construction on the entry by The University of Texas at Austin students began in early June and is expected to be completed in August. Tullis said the house is designed to use solar energy for lighting, heating, cooling, production of hot water and other energy needs. Photovoltaic panels will collect and store solar energy to provide power not only for the house, but also for a mobile trailer that will serve as the kitchen and bathroom. The home-office design features a flexible, modular, reusable kit of parts that sits lightly on the land and forms the superstructure around the mobile trailer.
Sarah Row, a graduate student in architecture, and other team members, have begun constructing a completely solar-powered building in Austin. They will move it to the mall in Washington, D.C. for judging in September.
The winner of the Solar Decathlon will be the team that can score the most points from 10 contests that test the effectiveness of their design. The contests will focus on energy production, energy efficiency, design, thermal comfort, refrigeration, lighting, communication and transportation, Tullis said. She said materials and appliances have been carefully selected based on environmental and health effects. The University of Texas at Austin’s collaborative team is co-directed by Professor Michael Garrison of the School of Architecture and Pliny Fisk, co-director of the nonprofit Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems in Austin, 8604 FM 969, where the home-office is being built.
Tullis said communication is a key part of the competition. Each team will have a Web site, provide house tours for the general public as well as special tours for the media and legislators, and create printed materials that explain the design, engineering and operation of the house and the products and technologies being showcased in the house.
Tullis said that after the competition is over in Washington, D.C., the students will dismantle the house and move it back to Austin where it will be reconstructed at the Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems as a demonstration site for the U.S. Green Building Conference in November.
“The Solar Decathlon represents a tremendous opportunity for national exposure of green building technologies,” Tullis said. “This will be the biggest sustainable design competition ever and the Solar Decathlon is likely to become a biennial event.”
Photos by Marsha Miller