March 1, 2012

Back to School: Aardvarchitecture Competes in the Solar Decathalon

Hit by the recession, Aardvarchitecture partners Christian Volkmann and Lynnette Widder hit the books. For Volkmann, that meant a promotion to full-time associate professor of architecture at the City College of New York. “I quickly realized that about a quarter of the students had worked in construction before studying architecture, and they all craved hands-on experience,” he says. Hence his decision to apply to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon, a biannual competition that challenges college teams to design prototypes for houses powered by the sun, then build them on the National Mall in Washington. Accepted as one of 20 contenders, his Team New York comprised 60 undergraduates from the Spitzer School of Architecture and the Grove School of Engineering.

Aided by Widder, an associate professor of architecture at the Rhode Island School of Design, Team New York devised the Solar Roofpod, a penthouse-type structure ideal for the flat tops of city mid-rises. A steel-framed dunnage system acted as a foundation while extending on all sides as a deck landscaped with plants irrigated by storm runoff. The single-story pod’s steel frame accepted a variety of wall panels in poplar plywood and/or glass. Inside, a square core integrated a kitchen, an entertainment system for the living area, a Murphy bed, a bathroom, and storage. Appliances, electronics, and HVAC were entirely powered by the roof’s photovoltaic panels in conjunction with an innovative system of thermal storage. Over the course of a year, instead of the competition’s two weeks, Solar Roofpod could save $2,500-plus in utilities and keep 8,800 pounds of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.

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