UMD to Mass Produce Award Winning Solar House

(via The Diamondback)

A University of Maryland team is making plans to mass produce its sustainable house design after it placed first nationally and second globally at the National Solar Decathlon competition with its six-room solar energy house, which included a composting system, hydroponic garden, movable “living walls” covered in plants, a composting toilet, a solar-powered washer and dryer, among other advanced technology features.

The Solar Decathlon competition, sponsored by the U.S. Energy Department and held in Denver from Oct. 5 to Oct. 15., consisted of more than a dozen teams from colleges around the world competing to design solar-powered houses. The team plans to mass produce the prize-winning house, which cost about $300,000 for the team to design and build over an 18-month period. When produced for the house market, it’s expected to cost about $200,000 a house.

The team calls its creation reACT, which stands for Resilient Adaptive Climate Technology.

The house is essentially a “kit of parts” design with rooms that can be assembled or disassembled to allow the layout of the house to change based on the owner’s needs. The 993-square-foot space was designed with influences from the Nanticoke Indian Tribe as well as other Maryland tribal traditions.

“This is really a revolution in sustainability,” said Michael Binder, a lecturer in the architecture school and one of the co-principal investigators of the project. “We wanted to create a house which generates its own energy, cleans its own water, recycles its waste — we believe if all houses were built like this, we would not have a shortage of energy or water on the planet.”

Currently the team — which has a core group of about 40 people but includes about 400 total from different colleges within this university — is looking for development partners. Sophie Habib, the lead architecture health and safety officer for the team, said the next step includes researching and testing to better design the house and test the technology on a bigger model.

They have tentatively identified a Native American community as the first market for selling and building more house models. The house sparked interest during the competition within some Native American communities interested in living off the grid or on a microgrid, Habib said. Binder said the team chose the Native American community as the first market for the homes because the ideals and philosophies the houses promote align with the Native American tradition of connecting with the land.

“Instead of just being a one-off design for this competition, we are going to make hundreds of these houses and it really will have an impact on the housing market,” Binder said. “It’s not just a house, but also a whole set of technologies that can be incorporated into any house design.”

The house used for the competition is being shipped back to Maryland, where it will live next to the university’s house from the 2007 Solar Decathlon in an on-campus sustainability park used for research, education and to showcase the projects to regional industry and professional stakeholders, according to the Solar Decathlon’s website.

Graduate student Alla Elmahadi, a construction manager for the project, traveled to Denver for three weeks with about 30 other students for the competition.

“It was just a great experience overall to see all the different schools have their own approach to solar sustainable design,” Elmahadi said. “We all had the same set of rules, but we each came up with very different concepts. We made a beautiful home and I am excited for it to come back to Maryland so people can see it.”

Habib hopes the house will be ready for mass production within the next couple of years.

Learn more about University of Maryland’s Department of Architecture. 

U. Buffalo Designs A Home for All

(via UB News Center)

Home for All: University of Buffalo Design Students Use Universal Design Principles to Design Habitat for Humanity Home

Later this summer, a family will move into their new home on Buffalo’s East Side. Thanks to a pilot project between Habitat for Humanity and the University at Buffalo’s School of Architecture and Planning, the family will be comfortable staying in the house for a long time, even as its members reach their elderly years.

Students created designs for the home renovation that feature principles of universal design – a first for Habitat Buffalo.

Universal design seeks to increase usability, health and social participation for a diverse population. The home on Sussex Street, near Erie County Medical Center, will be the first to be completed as part of the UB-Habitat pilot project.

It started in the fall with a one-semester studio taught by Ed Steinfeld and Peter Russell. Steinfeld is a professor of architecture and director of the Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access (IDeA Center) in UB’s School of Architecture and Planning. He’s also an internationally renowned expert on universal design. Russell is the manager of the school’s Materials and Methods Shop.

Steinfeld and Russell challenged their students to develop innovative solutions to difficult problems of affordable housing design and construction that Habitat for Humanity could adopt. Students produced construction documents, research reports and visualizations to communicate their innovative ideas.

In a spring construction course taught by Russell, students then worked on the home, performing demolition and building alongside Habitat’s team of volunteers. The house is close to being ready for occupancy.

“I cannot think of a more complete package partnership than this: UB students design and build a house that will actually go to a Habitat family. It’s awesome,” said Barry Weiss, the construction manager for Habitat Buffalo.

“The studio portion of this pilot was hugely successful,” he said. “Normally, we have one designer develop a blueprint for our houses. For the Sussex Street home, we had 12 students offering different ideas. That allowed us to choose from a variety of options to find a design that would be most appropriate for that particular family and for the way that we build. It was an exciting opportunity for us and we look forward to doing it again in the future.”

University at Buffalo students work on the interior of a Habitat for Humanity house on Buffalo's East Side.

University at Buffalo students work on the interior of a Habitat for Humanity house on Buffalo’s East Side. (Photo by Douglas Levere)


Photo by Douglas Levere


Photo by Douglas Levere


Photo by Douglas Levere

All amenities — including the laundry facilities — are accessible from the first floor. In addition, the first-floor bathroom will include storage shelving that could be removed years from now, creating space for a roll-in shower. The back of the house was designed to accommodate a lift, again allowing for aging in place to occur.

“I wanted to create a house design that’s accessible for all,” explained Gallersdorfer, an Akron, New York, native who received her master of architecture in May. “The whole idea is that by planning for these things now, you can save on costs down the road as the family ages. I wanted to show that it’s possible to make adaptability affordable.” Read more

USF Architecture Grads Design Award-Winning Disaster Relief Shelter

(via WUSF)

In 2009, University of South Florida School of Architecture and Community Design students Sean Verdecia and Jason Ross watched Hurricane Katrina and the aftermath. What struck them was the lack of quick, proper shelter for the victims of an event like this.

Sean Verdecia, left, and Jason Ross worked with USF's technology transfer office to patent their design and develop a business plan., HANDOUT

Sean Verdecia, left, and Jason Ross worked with USF’s technology transfer office to patent their design and develop a business plan., HANDOUT

“It started with disasters,” Verdecia said. “We noticed that there’s a second disaster, where people are given these shelters that lack human dignity. We thought that maybe we could use our architecture skills to maybe come up with something new that could solve this issue.”

Even after graduating, the pair continued working on the problem and came up with an answer: AbleNook. “AbleNook is a modular disaster relief dwelling that you can put together without tools in under two hours,” Verdecia said. The duo was encouraged by professor Mark Weston to take their idea to USF’sTechnology Transfer Office, which helped them form a start-up company.

What also came in handy was a crowd-funded Kickstarter campaign they held in 2012 to build a second prototype for field testing. “We started getting these $5,000 donations pouring in and that was like, the light bulb when off and were like, ‘Oh my gosh, people really love this idea, we need to keep working on this,’” Verdecia said. “At its heart, it’s a humanitarian project and people respond to that.”  What makes AbleNook unique is that it does a lot of things other shelters can’t do.

“Maybe they can’t be deployed on an uneven terrain, or you need a whole crew to take it out to the field to assemble it, or it’s not insulated, or it’s not secure, or it doesn’t provide human dignity,” Verdecia said, adding, “when we developed this design, we wanted it to be able to check all those boxes.”

The smallest version of AbleNook has an interior space of 64 square feet, is 20 feet long and about 13 feet high, with ceilings that are 10 feet high. “It’s made out of aircraft grade aluminum and structurally insulated panels that you can just click together without any tools,” Verdecia said. If there was a need for a number of shelters to be sent to a disaster site, they can be sent out en masse on the back of a truck and delivered to a scene. “These would be shipped out from our facility, flat packed, almost like an IKEA product and then when it arrives, it’s more like a Lego product that you put together yourself,” Verdecia said.

The AbleNook has thermal insulation and a number of frosted glass windows and natural ventilation techniques to keep the interior warm or cool, depending on the climate. The expandable design means additional units can be set up side by side or on top of one another. It’s also attractive enough with an arched roof and a porch that AbleNook can be used as a portable office, classroom, or even as a prefabricated home.

“We see this kind of like a Mercedes, that you have two versions of the Mercedes,” Verdecia said. “You have the utility version and then you have the luxury version, so you can take the same base platform and you can have it as a delivery vehicle or you can have it as this luxury SUV.”

Read more.

(via WUSF)

To learn more about AbleNook, check out their website!

If you want to know more about the USF Architecture Program, check out their profile page on!