USC Solar Decathalon team reveals design for home

USC students and professors revealed their design last week for USC’s home entry in the 2013 Solar Decathlon. Since fall 2011, USC students and professors have combined applied architecture, engineering, sustainability and construction skills to build a functional and livable net-zero solar house for the competition

Going green ·  Qiuyue Chen, a sophomore majoring in communication, stands next to the model of the solar home to be built on the South Lawn of the University Park Campus for the 2013 Solar Decathlon. - Xi Luo | Daily Trojan

Going green · Qiuyue Chen, a sophomore majoring in communication, stands next to the model of the solar home to be built on the South Lawn of the University Park Campus for the 2013 Solar Decathlon. – Xi Luo | Daily Trojan

The project has members from schools and departments including the Viterbi School of Engineering, the Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism, the Marshall School of Business and the School of Cinematic Arts. The USC team  currently consists of 26 undergraduate and graduate students from the School of Architecture and Viterbi, as well as faculty advisers Alice Kimm and Gary Paige.

The design of the solar home is the product of combined features from a range of design proposals by the students themselves — an ongoing process of change, testing and refinement.

Team member Corey Koczarski, a fourth-year architecture major, said the challenge required a collaborative effort.

“It involves a lot of discussion and team work,” Koczarski said. “Yet, each individual is also assigned to complete his own task.”

The solar house itself, called the fluxHome, is an energy-efficient alternative to the typical single-family suburban tract house, Koczarski said. It is designed for the middle-class lifestyle and the mild climate of Southern California, reflecting two common models: the courtyard house and the craftsman bungalow.

The fluxHome will be constructed from sustainable, recycled and repurposed materials that are ideal in terms of quality, affordability and environmental use. The solar house also utilizes light, space and air to include an open floor plan with courtyards, verandas and porches, creating an atmosphere and environment unique to Southern California living.

Team member Christine Tanguay, a fifth-year majoring in architecture, said the project does more than provide sustainably built solar homes.

“Many people often repeat this process of getting up in the morning, going to work, then going home,” Tanguay said. “There can be rare interaction with the outdoor environment. Thus, the architectural idea of this solar home is to create a series of features that will bring the outside environment inside and the indoor participants back outside.”

Paige, a visiting critic at the School of Architecture, said the fluxHome will include elements that provide for  the use of more natural light and solar energy. The light will come from light-harvesting openings and its attached chimney will provide additional skylight.

The Solar Decathlon is a two-week competition that will take place in October in Irvine, Calif. The solar homes will be judged on their architectural merit, market appeal, the functionality of their engineering, the ability of installing appliance within the home and affordability. The sections will be judged by a jury of professionals that specialize in each of the fields.

Team members believe this experience has benefits that extend past the October competition.

“This is an unprecedented opportunity,” Tanguay said. “I saw the opportunity to combine both architecture and sustainability as a wonderful experience.”

The model homes will be deconstructed to travel to the competition and each university has 10 days to rebuild its entry for the competition.

USC’s solar home will be mostly  constructed on campus, then transported to the competition in three separate pieces. After the competition, the solar home will be donated as a residential home to a family in Los Angeles.

Many of the students on the solar decathlon team had little to no previous experience with construction. Many team members consulted L.A. professionals to maximize the design of the solar home.

Team member Justin Kang, a graduate student in the master of architecture program, said the experience provides students with real-world solutions.

“The learning process itself is very valuable,” Kang said. “Not only do we design, but we apply these solutions to the real world as well.”

Paige noted that because participants applied their academic lessons to complete the project, they gained a deeper understanding of the skills needed to succeed in the fields of architecture and engineering.

“Students are no longer spectators in their own sport, relegated to making small-scale models and abstract representations … but instead  they work at a range of scales from the diagram to the detail,” Paige said.

With the competition approaching, students are excited to begin construction of the full-scale prototype this semester on the South Lawn adjacent to Watt Hall and the Fisher Museum of Art.

According to Kimm, the best is yet to come.

“The most rewarding experience for me is watching the growth of students and the amount of skill and knowledge they have learned,” Kimm said. “Yet, it’s all so real and applicable … I can’t wait to see their faces when they walk through the completed solar home … this is a rare opportunity for students but the best is yet to come.”

Team USC members said they hope to enter future Solar Decathlon competitions. The team welcomes the assistance and involvement of students from a variety of disciplines, including architecture, engineering, business, communications and cinema.

After it is constructed, the house will be tested during the summer.