AUSTIN, Texas—Architecture student Sarah Row took a break during one of her 14-hour work days on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., and reflected on what she and her fellow students were doing there.
“This is the most prestigious piece of real estate in the country and we’re building a house on it,” said Row, one of 24 students from The University of Texas at Austin who participated recently in the national Solar Decathlon competition in the nation’s Capitol. “Every time I look up from my work and see the Capitol on one end of the Mall and the Washington Monument on the other, that’s really rewarding.
Row, a graduate student who has been involved in the Solar Decathlon project the past 18 months, said the solar homes, viewed by thousands of visitors during the past two weeks, should help people realize the advantages of using alternative energy sources.
“All of us feel good about it. We are doing something different and innovative,” Row said.
The University of Texas at Austin placed eighth among the 14 national finalists in the competition that ended Sunday. Participants demonstrated innovative ways to design and build a structure powered completely by solar energy. The university’s strongest marks were in categories for design and livability, graphics and communication, energy balance, and design presentation and simulation. The top three winners in the competition, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, were the University of Colorado, the University of Virginia and Auburn University. At one point more than 1,200 visitors per hour visited the Solar Decathlon site on the Mall.
The University of Texas at Austin’s team was 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.
Garrison said the competition allowed students to put their design theory to practice by actually building something they had developed as a computer model. It gave them experience in raising project funds, product marketing and working with others as a team.
Frederick Steiner, dean of the School of Architecture at The University of Texas at Austin, said that perhaps the greatest lesson for students who participated in the Solar Decathlon was the idealism of the project and the willingness to take risks. The university’s innovative design included the use of an Airstream RV trailer that houses the kitchen, laundry room and bathroom.
Steiner said the Solar Decathlon experience should help prepare the architecture students in their professional lives to “approach future design problems with a good amount of courage.”
Dr. Larry R. Faulkner, president of The University of Texas at Austin, visited the architecture team on the National Mall last week and later shared his impressions with Steiner.
“This kind of experience is likely to change the way that these students look at their whole career from now on,” Faulkner said. “I’m grateful for a faculty that is willing to invest in what it takes to give that to them.”
The university’s Solar Decathlon home-office is being dismantled by about a dozen students this week and will be transported on four trucks from the National Mall back to Austin. It will be reassembled at the Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems in East Austin and will be included in the U.S. Green Building Conference in Austin in November.
For more information contact: Robert D. Meckel, Office of Public Affairs, 512-475-7847.