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Team to build energy-independent house

In Europe, Brown-RISD team will build and display its energy-efficient solar house

A team of students from Brown, the Rhode Island School of Design and the University of Applied Sciences in Erfurt in Germany will be one of 20 teams competing to build the best energy-independent solar house in the European Department of Education Solar Decathlon in June 2014.

The team learned of its acceptance to the competition, which will take place at the Palace of Versailles in France, last December after being selected based on a proposal submitted before winter break, said Matt Breuer ’14, a member of the team. With its selection came €100,000 of seed money, which the team members will use to build the house.

The team was formed by Johnathan Knowles, an assistant professor of architecture at RISD. The team currently has 30 members and is still growing, wrote Derek Stein, assistant professor of physics and the team’s faculty advisor, in an email to The Herald.

Students on the team have diverse skill sets, with its members studying disciplines including engineering, environmental science and architecture, Stein wrote. The team chose to partner with students from the University of Applied Sciences in Erfurt because of the school’s focus on passive solar design, Stein said. Passive solar design uses structure to regulate the building’s temperature with minimal power use.

For students on the team, competing is both an opportunity and a responsibility because almost everything is student-organized, Breuer said. The students are responsible for most aspects of the project — including everything from fundraising and design to the actual physical construction of the house — though Knowles is also devoting significant time to the project, Breuer said.

The team spent most of the fall semester putting together a proposal to qualify for the competition, a process which Breuer said took “a lot of long hours to get done.”

The final 20-page proposal included the team’s original technical designs and architectural concept work, along with financial and organizational plans, Gareth Rose ’16, a member of the team, wrote in an email to The Herald.

The house will comprise woven textiles within a solid frame, and it will be both movable and alterable, Breuer said.

After the proposal was accepted, team members from RISD traveled to Germany to refine the house’s design with their German counterparts, Stein wrote.  The team will select one of the three plans they devised,  and will then spend the next calendar year finalizing design plans. The projected budget for the house is $600,000, so students will spend a significant amount of time fundraising, Stein wrote.

One year from now, the team will begin the actual construction of the house in Germany, Breuer said. It will be transported to the Palace of Versailles for the competition, after which it will be put into use by Vitra, a high-end German furniture manufacturer, which has invited the team to move the final project to its foundation retreat. This will allow the team’s work to occupy a high-profile location for years to come, Stein wrote.

The team’s ultimate objective is not to win but rather to create something “with a real impact,” Breuer said. The  goal of competing is to raise a “tremendous amount of awareness about the importance of the energy issue we face and how to work towards solving it,” Rose wrote.


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