Students have their day
in the sun in solar home contest
of the U.Va. Solar Decathlon Team
computer-generated model of U.Va.s solar house, being
designed and built by engineering and architecture students,
is situated on the Mall in Washington, D.C., because that
will be the site of the U.S. Department of Energys Solar
Decathlon. The event, which aims to educate the public about
energy consumption and sustainable living, is a three-day
competition in which U.Va. and 13 other universities nationwide
will compete this September.
By Jane Ford
sun is at the center of collaboration between U.Va. engineering
and architecture students. Together, they are redefining what
a solar home can be, collaborating on the design and construction
of an 800-square-foot, portable house and demonstrating that solar
living is affordable, practical and comfortable. The house is
U.Va.s entry in the U.S. Department of Energys Solar
DOE views the Solar Decathlon as an opportunity to educate students
and the public about the role of energy consumption in our daily
lives and to demonstrate green, or sustainable living.
The competition will take place over three days in September on
the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Decathlon entries will have
to pass 10 contests or events that consider a range of architectural
and engineering issues. The contestants are challenged to redefine
contemporary notions of home size, energy consumption, material
selection and investigate innovative technologies to store and
use solar energy.
collaborative venture between the School
of Architecture and the School
of Engineering and Applied Science is a natural pairing
both stress environmental concerns as integral to their curricula
by Jenny Gerow
Moore Wallinger, a graduate student in landscape architecture,
was one of the students who gave presentations at last semesters
Solar House Project review, attended by builders and architects
in the community, as well as faculty members. A team of architecture
and engineering students is responsible for all aspects of
the project design, management, construction, fund
raising and publicity. They have created a Web site to provide
information on their work and serve as a research tool: http://solarhome.lib.virginia.edu.
in the project are architecture, landscape architecture and planning
students teamed with electrical, mechanical, civil, computer science
and chemical engineering students. They are responsible for all
aspects of the project: design, management, construction, fund
raising and publicity. They have also created a Web site, http://solarhome.lib.virginia.edu,
to provide information to the public, as well as to serve as a
research tool for professionals and the public.
the past year and a half, more than 60 students have worked on
various aspects of the project through classes and independent
study. Each semester, a changing mix of students has built on
the research and decision making of those who were team members
from the previous semesters. They have analyzed domestic activities,
studied built examples of sustainable and photovoltaic-powered
buildings and evaluated materials and systems. They have debated
and defended their research and plans, and together, narrowed
down their ideas into one cohesive design. Construction of the
house will begin mid-semester on an industrial site in Crozet
and will continue through the summer.
most innovative engineering feature of the house is the degree
of automation, said Paxton Marshall, professor of electrical
engineering and the Engineering Schools faculty team member.
The students are developing that system themselves.
plan goes beyond collection and storage of solar energy and includes
pre-programming the use of energy, as well as being able to control
the overall energy balance remotely by computer or phone when
weather conditions or personal needs change.
emphasized the benefit to the students of being responsible for
all aspects of the project and the advantage they gain from working
on an interdisciplinary project. One of the limitations
of the university experience is the isolation of different disciplines
from one another, he said. In the world, every significant
problem is interdisciplinary. There is virtually nothing that
students are enthusiastic and inspired by the practical aspects
of the project. This is a lot of real-life stuff. The process
of doing this house would be hard to simulate in the lab,
said Ben Dorrier, a fourth-year mechanical engineering major.
I joined the solar house team because it offered a chance
to learn about the full process of architecture, and not just
the preliminary design stage, said architecture graduate
student Adam Ruffin. The solar house offers a unique experience
in architecture education. It is rare and fantastic
that a studio project must go from concept to construction.
the competition, the house will be installed permanently on University
Grounds and serve as a guest house for visiting faculty, as well
as a laboratory for sustainable design and renewable energy for
future engineering and architecture students.
the solar house prototype carries a hefty price tag more
than $250,000. Students are soliciting donations, both financial
and in-kind, from area professionals, businesses, foundations
and alumni. Martin Horn General Contractors has agreed to assist
with construction management throughout the building process.
Albemarle Heating and Air has worked closely with the team to
provide design reviews and help secure other support. Lowes
and Weyerhaeuser are providing lumber products and framing materials.
In addition, the Class of 1995 has agreed to transfer a $42,000
gift originally intended for solar panels on the roof of Campbell
Hall to the solar house project.
will be joined in the three-day competition by 13 other universities,
including Carnegie Mellon, the University of Colorado at Boulder,
Virginia Tech, the University of Maryland, Texas A&M and the
University of Texas at Austin.
students have learned a lot about problem solving, working together
for a common good and communicating across disciplines, and about
how decisions they make in one area have a tremendous impact on
another area of the project, said assistant professor of
architecture John Quale. But perhaps the greatest lesson
they have learned is that the real design process starts when
they are challenged to respond to real constraints.
student Dave Click sums it up best, If a bunch of college
students can build a solar house, anyone can.