Team Belgium and Team New Jersey also departed from the wood-slats-and-louvers paradigm. The Belgians’ E-Cube features an exposed industrial pallet-racking structure and a fiber-cement-board facade, while ENJOY, the New Jersey house, is made of precast concrete, with an inverted hip roof that appears to float above clerestory windows. However, most of the houses use a vocabulary that will be familiar to the average American homebuyer. (Another category for the judges: “market appeal.”) As in past Decathlons, a number of teams drew on vernacular traditions, including Appalachian State University (homesteads with outbuildings) and Middlebury College (the New England farmhouse). Purdue University embraced market viability as a guiding principle of the INhome, a more compact and efficient version of the typical production home but with a self-watering biowall, something K. Hovnanian doesn’t offer as standard.
Three projects illustrate the recent shift toward social design. Team New York’s Solar Roofpod is intended to sit on top of a mid-rise building, making the most of underutilized air rights. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Re-home offers relief shelter for a family affected by a tornado or other natural disaster. The socially conscious standout is Empowerhouse, a three-way collaboration among The New School’s Parsons and Milano schools and the Stevens Institute of Technology. Working with the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development and Habitat for Humanity, the team designed the house for a permanent site in the Deanwood neighborhood of Washington. There, team members and Habitat volunteers will expand it into a duplex for two local families.
In 2009, the Decathlon logged more than 300,000 visitors. Shuttle buses brought visitors from the Smithsonian Metro station, 1.3 miles away in an effort to match that number. Elisabeth Neigert, project manager for the SCI-Arc/Caltech team, said she’s happy that the event is still on the Mall, albeit not centrally located. “There are pros and cons,” she said. “It’s still accessible for the public, and actually, assembly is easier because of the route for the trucks.” She added: “I do wish, and think it would be a nice gesture, for our government to invite us back to the National Mall proper for 2013."