Building support for Solar Decathlon
by Kellen Moore
In just two weeks, an Appalachian State University team will unveil its design for the Maison Reciprocity, the university's entry into the 2014 Solar Decathlon Europe.
On Monday, 26 undergraduate students offered their takes on the project, with hopes that their designs will be incorporated into the final concept that will compete in Versailles, France in summer 2014.
Graduate student Eric Burgoyne, a member of the Solar Decathlon team, said a "people's choice" would be selected from the undergrads' models, but the final concept would not be a perfect replica of any one design.
"Don't think of this as the house that's going to show up in France in 18 months," Burgoyne said. "We're going to take it and massage it some more and add some other ideas into it."
The Solar Decathlon is an international competition in which teams design and build a solar-powered, sustainable home. The "decathlon" term comes from 10 competitions that measure the efficiency and innovation of the entries.
ASU enters the decathlon this year with the benefit of previous experience. The university competed in the U.S. version of the Solar Decathlon in 2011 and won the People's Choice Award, as well as second in communications and third in architecture.
App State and its partner school, the University of Angers in France -- known collectively as Team Rciprocit -- were selected in December to be among 20 competing teams.
On Monday, seniors in Chad Everhart and Jason Miller's studio classes presented their concepts for the home that they have been working on since the start of the semester. Several of the students will be pulled into the graduate-level studios to work further on the design.
"This was very time-consuming, but worth it," senior Wayne Erb said.
Miller, an assistant professor of building science, said it also was challenging from his end to nurture and cultivate the students' ideas without being too heavy-handed.
"Essentially, teaching a studio is teaching 15 individual courses, if you're doing it right," Miller said, adding that he was impressed by how the students embraced the guidelines while producing such varied designs.
Mike Germano, who also worked on the 2011 Solar Decathlon team, said he was grateful to have the time to hash out designs and incorporate the students' concepts. He said the 2011 competition required a quicker turnaround.
"This time, we actually had time to think about what we were doing," he said.
That's not the only change this time around.
For starters, the home must be no larger than about 700 square feet, as opposed to the 1,000 square feet allowed in the U.S. competition, Burgoyne said. The European competition also asks ASU students to design for a population they don't know as well, he said, unlike with the Solar Homestead.
"We designed for an audience we really knew and understood," Burgoyne said of the 2011 Solar Decathlon. "Here, our customer is French social housing."
Because the structure will be built in Boone, it must be deconstructed and packed into 8 feet by 10 feet by 40 feet shipping containers and sent to France, adding several weeks to the timeline.
Then there's the linguistic challenge. For the last several months, the American-French team members have been sharing ideas via email and weekly video conferences. While the French students speak English, communicating technical ideas and vague concepts can be a challenge, said team member Bryce Oakley.
"These meetings are really tough," he said.
At competition, the team will be required to lead tours in both languages.
In the next 18 months, the project will expand to include more than 200 students from across several departments. It's unclear at this stage exactly how many ASU students will get to travel to France for the actual competition.
The university also is working hard to raise the estimated $1.5 million it will take to construct the home, ship it and house the students in France, said Jeff Tiller, chairman of the Department of Technology and Environmental Design.
"We're always hoping for the big donation, but we can make up for it with lots of local support," Tiller said. He added that the university has been generous in allowing faculty members to put so much time and energy into leading the project.
"It's a huge investment that they have put into it, so we hope we make them proud," he said.