Building a New Reality
See How Construction Companies and a Major U.S. University are Working Together to Create a Timeless Project Aimed at Improving the Future
In an effort to provide a hands-on experience that prepares students to enter the clean energy workforce, The U.S. Department of Energy sponsors a biennial competition known as the Solar Decathlon. One of the most elite design and build competitions in the world, The Solar Decathlon pits collegiate teams from across the globe against one another in a showcase of innovation, design, build and operation. Each team is required to build a house, with the caveat that it meets tough criteria that integrate sustainability and eco-friendly concepts including innovation, water use and re-use, smart energy use, market potential, energy efficient heating and cooling, communications, occupant health and comfort and cost-effective architectural design. Teams have two years for the project build, and then have to tear it down to transport it to Denver, Colorado, where they will reassemble it for this year’s competition.
Northwestern University has entered the competition for the first time in the 2016-2017 battle, promising to make an impact with their 999 sq. ft. project. Designed for baby boomers who want to grow old in the house, the HBN team (House By Northwestern) plan to deliver a structure that integrates technology, market potential and design excellence to handle the Chicago climate, while minimizing its impact on the surrounding environment — to the extreme of being 90% more energy efficient than the average home in the Northwestern area!
While the work the students are putting in is already quite impressive, what makes the project even more special is that it is truly made possible because of the backing and participation of so many companies within the AEC realm and beyond. Helping to cover the $250k+ costs of the project are sponsors and advisors like Adrian Smith and Gordon Gill Architecture, sustainNU, GAF, FedEx, Thornton Thomasetti, Power Construction and The Hill Group to name a few. Beyond the financial and resource contributions, the firms worked with students to guide their efforts and teach them real world experience to enhance their preparedness to thrive in the field. “We are working with all of these great partners who are giving us all of these products and supporting us and all these people with all this experience helping us out; so we have a strong idea of what the best systems will be for our house,” explains Project Health and Safety Officer Karla Lopez.
Financial and material donations are important to the team, and so is mentorship from project sponsors like Power Construction. “We always like to give back by helping the university and helping the students who will be the future of our industry,” explains Rob Chase, Assistant Superintendent at Power Construction. “To have someone guide this process would have been a big benefit for me at their age, so I am glad we could be that mentor for them. They have taken the help we have given them and really run with it.”
Chase was also impressed at how quickly the team was willing to adopt and adapt to digital solutions, like Bluebeam Studio, a collaborative PDF-based solution for architecture, engineering and construction. “I knew [the project] was gonna be a very fast-paced project, getting drawings in and reviewed and I knew the collaborative aspects of Bluebeam and Studio in particular would be very helpful. It’s what Power and most of the industry titans in the city that we work with use; It’s something we were all comfortable with and I knew that with them being bright young students, they would pick it up quickly even if they hadn’t used it before.”
The HBN team is currently utilizing the remaining weeks to finish up the build, and measure out the specs before tearing the house down and sending it out to reassemble it for the final judgement in Denver in October 2017.
Stay tuned for the follow up to this piece as we follow the HBN team to Denver this fall to get an in-depth look at the project during the judges’ evaluation.