Yesterday is an important anniversary for me. October 3rd is the day I set out on a journey around the world which passed through England, India, Nepal, the Philippines, New Zealand and Mexico. I spent one week in Washington DC preparing for the trip and getting to know my new cohort. On the night of the full moon, I took a walk by myself to the Washington Mall and was astonished to find it crowded with people and buildings – numerous little houses arranged up and down the mall.
What I was accidentally witnessing was the first ever Solar Decathlon. According to its own website:
The U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon is an award-winning program that challenges collegiate teams to design, build, and operate solar-powered houses that are cost-effective, energy-efficient, and attractive. The winner of the competition is the team that best blends affordability, consumer appeal, and design excellence with optimal energy production and maximum efficiency.
Since that first event in 2002, there have been four more gatherings on The Mall. The Decathlon takes place biennially, allowing college teams two years to plan, prepare and build their model houses.
The teams which design Solar Decathlon houses for competition are large and multidisciplinary including, architecture students and engineers as you might expect but also plant science students, product designers, business majors, marketing students and more.
The houses must be constructed at the home university and then transported to Washington for competition. The judging is based on 10 categories: Architecture, Market appeal, Engineering, Communications, Affordability, Comfort Zone, Hot Water, Appliances, Home Entertainment and Energy Balance. They need to be compact and multifunctional – usually incorporating a home office as well as bed, bath, eating and dining spaces, onsite food and energy production, and ADA compliant accessibility. Its a tall order to fill.
The winner this year is by University of Maryland’s Watershed team. Check out their website for more on their process and final product.