From the vantage point of the Mall in Washington D.C., the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon was able to demonstrate in 2002 and 2005 the benefits of sustainable living to over 200,000 visitors while providing a venue for architecture students to explore green design and technology. This year’s contest featured teams from the United States and abroad and showed an elevated level of architectural ambition. The twenty houses had to provide enough energy to run themselves, with any extra power going towards powering an electric car.
The winning team came from the Technische Universitat Darmstadt in Germany. They designed an elegant, louver-shaded house that uses both passive solar technology and sophisticated photovoltaics both on the roof and integrated into its shutters. “It was clearly the best scheme architecturally,” said juror Gregory Kiss. “It was extremely sophisticated in terms of the way it expressed and integrated technology, in its craftsmanship and space planning.”
In addition to the solar technology, the house also has a high performance skin with vacuum-insulated panels—akin to a thermos—and phase-change interior wallboards, which store energy in the same way as much heavier masonry walls. The house sits on a platform integrating mechanicals and insulation, as well as providing space for sunken lounge and bed areas. These areas can be covered over and the furniture can fold away, creating flexible spaces in the 800-square-foot house. “We wanted to show that there is a more sustainable way of life,” said Barbara Gehrung, IATU Darmstadt professor and one of the team’s project managers. “The technology is here.” The Darmstadt team is exploring putting the house or the louvered facade system into production by partnering with a manufactured housing company.
The team from the University of Maryland placed second with a pitched-roof design that also features a living wall to filter storm water. Santa Clara University’s workaday design that reinterprets a California Mission house placed third due to a strong public education program. American teams may soon face less Old World competition. Solar Decathlon Europe will debut in 2010.