Energy futureWinners announced in two new-approach building competitions

Published 31 October 2007

The Solar Decathlon and Lifecycle Building Challenge aim to promote energy independence and better environment through greater reliance on alternative energy and better building design and materials

Two interesting — and important — competitions were held during the past two weeks, both aiming to promote energy idependence and cleaner environment: The first by showing how buildings can be powered completely by solar energy, the second by showing that better building designs and materials could reduce the use of energy and lessen the adverse effects on the environment.

* The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has been sponsoring the Solar Decathlon competiton — a competition in which twenty college and university teams design, build, and operate the most attractive and energy-efficient solar-powered house. This year’s event took place on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., during 12-20 October. The team houses were open for touring by the public, and the winners were announced on Friday, 19 October. The over winner was a house built by students at the Technische Universität of Darmstadt, Germany. Second prize went the University of Maryland, and third prize to Santa Clara University.

* The second competition was the Lifecycle Building Challenge, which held its innaugural event in San Francisco. The competition is supported by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in partnership with the Building Materials Reuse Association, the American Institute of Architects, West Coast Green, and Green Building Blocks. The goal of the competition is show that it is possible to build residential and commercial buildings in a manner which would reduce adverse effects on land by reducing waste generation, increasing recycling, and ensuring proper management of waste and petroleum products at facilities in ways that prevent releases. Another goals is to reduce materials use through product and process design, and increase materials and energy recovery from wastes otherwise requiring disposal. In this competition, the winning categories include not only entire structures, but also components and services. The EPA’s Protection Agency Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response assistant administrator Susan Bodine announced the winners, commending them for their cutting-edge green building ideas.

The issue of material recovery is not trivial, and the event organizers want to reverse the trend that sees the disposal of large quantities of construction and demolition debris in landfills. Reusing building components also reduces energy and greenhouse gas emissions associated with producing and transporting materials. In the United States, buildings consume 60 percent of total materials flow (excluding food and fuel) and account for 33 percent of the solid waste stream. Building renovation and demolition accounts for 91 percent of the construction and demolition debris generated each year, while new construction accounts for only 9 percent. Between 2000 and 2030, 27 percent of existing buildings will be replaced and 50 percent of the total building stock will be constructed.

Competition among architects and desingers generates many attractive pictures and appealing designs, all of which are available on the Web sites of the two competition. We chose two pictures to accopmany this story:

* The winning entry of the Solar Decathlon, designed by students at the Technische Universität Darmstadt in Germany

* The Honorable Mention at the Lyfecycle Building Challenge — a modest, 1,200 sq. ft family home located at 534 Riverview Ave. in Kansas City, Kansas. It was designed by students at Studio804, which is part of the University of Kansas School of Architecture and Urban Design, led by architect Dan Rockhill of Rockhill and Associates of Lecompton, Kansas.

We notice a certain similarity of concept between the two designs, and not only becasue of the structures’ wooden exteriors. Rather, the simplicty and detail, especially in the built structure in Kansas City, are utterly modern and bring the Bauhuas style, better known on this shores as the International School, to mind.