Monday, September 7, 2009

BeauSoleil: Put a Lid On It !

Solar Decathlon Update: Every two years 20 university teams are chosen, based on proposals, to design an all-solar home and assemble it on the National Mall in Washington DC for public viewing and judging. Check back each Wednesday as the NAV Blog reports on the process of the design and construction of BeauSoleil, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette's entry. For more info about the project, visit their website. And check out a short film about the project.

Report from the field:

Why do we as designers like the challenge of a competition like the Solar Decathlon? Why do we work and think so hard about very specific problems? Is it because the solutions we develop give us gratification/ satisfaction? Are we not challenged enough in a typical design project whether hypothetical or real? Is it the desire to triumph over others working on similar design problems/solutions?

It seems to me that it is the fear of the unknown, the possibility of failure and the risk in general, that is the allure also. I've often compared the struggle of the Decathlon with the Moon Launch and the assault on Normandy in WWII. Obviously, there is really no comparison with the scale of the projects or the sacrifices made - but for those who have competed in the Decathlon there is some truth the rings true.

So why do we drive ourselves to such extreme for 10 days on the mall in DC? It is not really about those ten days... but it is... but is also really about a personal challenge for each of the TEAM members. Can I handle it? The Decathlon is really a vehicle for testing ourselves and our ideas while producing something of lasting significance.

W. Geoff Gjertson, AIA
Assoc. Professor of Architecture
UL Lafayette
TEAM BeauSoleil Faculty Advisor

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The decathalon, sadly, has become about money. Just to play requires at least $1/3M. To play comfortably requires $1/2M. The German entry two years ago spent a reported $1.3M and swept most of the prizes. The two year time frame is, in reality, a three year process. There is no way, unless the institution has deep pockets, to raise the money. Now that we are in recession, the funding is even tighter and the DOE should consider shifting back to the three year cycle.

The competition requires unflagging compliance with the rules. thus, one cannot question the received wisdom of the house with all of the standard American accoutrements, such as AC, dishwasher, washer/dryer, etc. The one bedroom layout is also unflagging.

I am also skeptical of the innovation that is resulting. There seem to be two kinds of entry - the "state of the shelf" (to borrow from McDonough), and the innovation for the sake of difference. The former uses more common formal language and technologies, and attempts to make it work in a more sustainable manner. The latter is obsessed with formal innovation for the sake of it, and comes up with all kinds of bizarre details hoping to make it look cool. This often happens at the expense of decent planning. I have seen entries in the latter category that have had few operable windows, and fail, on a basic level, to allow for solar gain and natural convection!

The program began well, but now has become highly institutionalized and is sorely in need of a healthy revolution.