The Miami Herald

Architecture student at Florida International University Mario Menendez reviews the model with fellow students for the school’s team’s solar powered house, named PerFORM[D]ance House (c on Thursday, July 8, 2010.
Florida International University is gearing up to design and build an affordable, solar-powered house after being chosen by the U.S. Department of Energy to compete in its 2011 Solar Decathlon.The decathlon includes 20 national and international universities, 18 months of design and construction, and three weeks of competition on the Mall in Washington, D.C.

“Our students are putting their project out there to be critiqued and visited by the broadest audience possible,” said Brian Schriner, interim dean of the College of Architecture and the Arts. “It’s a great privilege to be a part of something like that.”

The FIU team — consisting of about 50 graduate students and faculty members spanning across disciplines such as architecture, engineering, interior design and journalism — received $100,000 from the federal government and must raise about $400,000.

Four other Florida universities — the University of Florida, Florida State University, University of South Florida and the University of Central Florida — are competing under Team Florida. FIU is independent of that group.

The winner of the competition will be the team that best blends cost-effectiveness, consumer appeal and design excellence with optimal energy production and maximum efficiency. The universities will be judged in 10 categories, including architecture, affordability and energy balance.

The Department of Energy began the decathlon in 2002; it runs every two years.

“Florida International is doing some amazing things with their home design,” said Richard King, director of the Solar Decathlon. “It’s really important that they get the word out in the community to raise their funds and bring this project to life.”

Made predominantely out of tubular steel, the FIU house is being built around solar energy. It blends the needs of the home’s interior and exterior, taking into account South Florida’s heat and hurricanes.

“Discussion of sustainability in climates like ours is years behind cooler weather areas,” said Camilo Rosales, associate professor of architecture and faculty advisor for the project. “We are one of the only houses in the competition being constructed to sustain itself in tropical conditions.”

The FIU team is reworking the traditional porch, featuring a design that allows various levels of enclosure. A system allows adjustable louvers, or shutter-like blinds, to swing open, forming a wide canopy around the house that shades the interior and exterior spaces. The louvered panels can close tightly and serve as hurricane shutters.

“We are exploring sustainable and adaptable options for the house,” said Manny Dorticos, architecture team leader. “We really want to focus on hurricane resistance and ways to maximize lighting without using large amounts of electrical energy.”

The team’s faculty advisors said solar thermal systems provide the highest levels of comfort for residents and the lowest possible impact on the environment. They want to install stations inside the house so that when the home is on display on the National Mall, visitors can plug in their electronic devices and see how the house is maintaining itself.

“We are striving for the highest green sustainable system possible,” said Andy Madonna, project manager. “We are hoping to not only have the public walk through the house next fall, but be able to monitor the energy intake, as well.”

This year, the Department of Energy has introduced an affordability component, which challenges the teams to construct their homes with a $250,000 budget.

“We really want to show the public that this kind of building can be affordable and attainable,” said Deana Sritalapat, contest team captain.

“The average family should be given the opportunity to live a more energy-efficient lifestyle.”

The landscape design will allow for the exterior of the house to interact with the interior.

The team, for example, plans to construct a cistern-like pool outside the home, which will collect and recycle water from the inside.

“This allows wastewater generated from activities like laundry, dishwashing and bathing to be recycled on-site for uses like landscape irrigation,” said Tyler Schwartz, landscape architecture team leader. “It’s important for the future inhabitants of this house to see where their water is going.”

One of the challenges the team faces is building the house in Miami and then shipping it in pieces to Washington, D.C., where they have to reconstruct it.

Yet they are confident.

“Together, our students are taking their place on the most prominent of international stages,” said Marilys Nepomechie, principal investigator for the solar decathlon and associate professor of architecture. “They are contributing substantively to one of the most exciting conversations of our times, designing a sustainable future for our community.”

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