Georgia Tech Solar Decathlon Model Unveiling

Multidisciplinary project off to buzzing start

Georgia Tech has unveiled a solar decathlon house that is sure to capture the imagination of those who appreciate technology as well as those who are environmentally conscious. The Tech team is finishing the initial concept phase of its solar-powered house that will compete in Washington, D.C. in the fall of 2007. The competition is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy, and Tech will compete against 19 other teams for the top honor.

To begin the concept phase, an interdisciplinary design workshop was established at the start of Tech's summer term, led by Professor Ruchi Choudhary and Franca Trubiano from the College of Architecture. The team, including students from architecture, engineering and biology, was initially divided into seven groups. Each group then created their own concept for the house. After two weeks, through a democratic process, four houses were chosen to continue. The team was then divided into four groups to further those house concepts. After a vote on these projects, one week later, there was no clear winner. For a moment, it was unclear what the Tech team was going to do. After reflecting on its predicament over a long weekend, the decision was made to create a hybrid, a combination emphasizing the strengths of each house design.

"Combining the best elements of each of the four projects seemed to make a lot of sense. All of the students spent enormous time investigating the various energy systems of the project and how they could be conceptualized into architecture. There were a lot of good ideas created during the past several weeks. In the end, nobody could abandon them. So it was decided to combine the ideas. And magically it worked," said Chris Jarrett, one of the Solar Decathlon team's project managers. "It was a welcome result to a lot of collaborative work and late nights. The strategy allows everyone to take some ownership."

Tech's Solar Decathlon team is highly interdisciplinary and collaborative, reaching nearly all corners of the university. It comprises a large number of students, faculty and staff across the institute, as well as several consultants. Specifically the team includes four institute level partners, participation by four of the six colleges at Georgia Tech, and the support of three research centers - one each from architecture, engineering and science. The Tech team also includes three project managers, seven faculty advisors, more than 50 undergraduate, graduate and Ph.D. students, and four consultants.

With the project having such strong interdisciplinary ties, it has given students a unique opportunity and experience.

"I've always been in an engineering environment with a bunch of engineers and so it has been a different experience working with people who are coming to the project from a different perspective," said Adam Boyd, a graduate student in mechanical engineering. "We've been combining our thought processes and ideas and have really come up with something impressive out of it."

Architecture students say it's been an excellent learning experience.

"The engineers help us with things that we don't know so much about," said Travis Hampton, an undergraduate in the College of Architecture, "How much energy is needed to power the house. They do the calculations to figure out how many panels we're going to need to make this house work. Also in terms of the batteries, how many do we need? The plumbing, how should that be designed? They really helped us make some good decisions on which choices would be most efficient."

"It is quite a fruitful experience because different students have different perspectives on the same project," said Amine Alami, PhD student in electrical engineering. "Some see it from an architecture standpoint, while the engineers see it from a focus more on the technical parts of it and are more energy oriented. It is very interesting to see how we can all find a middle point, where we can combine all these ideas and please everyone in the design part of it."

"Also, knowing from the beginning that the solar house is getting built is something we normally don't get into at school," said Joe Jamgochian, an architecture graduate student. "And yet, knowing how to really put a building together is what we're going to face after we graduate. That's why this project is so exciting."

Tech's Solar Decathlon team will continue to modify the project as they prepare for the next phases of the competition. For more information on the team, please visit http://solar.gatech.edu.