As student leader of Virginia Tech’s Solar Decathlon Middle East team, Laurie Booth is guiding the only U.S. team selected for an intercollegiate global competition to build the world’s best solar home.
The third-year architecture student heads a diverse group — all driven to design a house that's smart, sustainable, and adaptable to the needs of people worldwide, regardless of age, culture, or walk of life.
The team unites 30 students and 18 faculty from four colleges, 14 disciplines, and seven countries in building a net-zero energy home incorporating new methods of prefabrication, technology, and sustainability.
“This is a life-altering experience,” said Booth, of Charlotte, North Carolina. “This competition goes beyond our university. It has the potential to revolutionize the way we build and live. It’s not just a contest — it’s a way to use our skills and education to help solve a global problem.”
The team hails from Virginia Tech’s College of Architecture and Urban Studies, College of Engineering, College of Science, and Pamplin College of Business. It spans disciplines that include architecture, building construction, chemistry, civil engineering, computer science, interior design, marketing management, mechanical engineering, and visual communication design, and involves two Virginia Tech student-run creative agencies, FourDesign and PRISM.
In November 2018, the team will travel to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, to compete against 22 universities from 16 countries. In a series of 10 contests, the team must demonstrate that FutureHAUS Dubai is the most efficient, well-designed home, generating more energy than it consumes.
“Sponsors are literally powering our house with their donations,” Booth said. “We have to build a house that produces all energy needed to run its functions, like cooling, appliances, and technology; and to complete specific tasks like charging an electric car, washing towels, and hosting a dinner party. For $5, you can fund the physical cell of one solar panel. For $100, you can fund the energy required to charge the electric car. $500 will cover the solar-powered barbecue we host as part of the competition.”
The Solar Decathlon is a 10-day competition, created by the U.S. Department of Energy as a way to enlist university students and faculty worldwide in solar housing research. The 2018 contest hosted in Dubai presents the added challenge of designing a home that withstands the city’s heat, dust, and humidity. It also supports Dubai’s bid to be the city with the world’s smallest carbon footprint by 2050.
Virginia Tech hopes to repeat its 2010 global victory, when LumenHAUS won the Solar Decathlon in Madrid, Spain. Afterward, LumenHAUS took a victory lap, with exhibitions in Times Square, the National Mall, and Chicago’s Millennium Park. It won a 2012 AIA Honor Award from the American Institute of Architects, the first time a university team ever won the prestigious national professional design award.
Faculty lead Joe Wheeler, professor of architecture and co-director of the Center for Design Research, said new research produced over the past seven years on FutureHAUS makes Virginia Tech’s team formidable. FutureHAUS demonstrates the future of smart, sustainable housing by integrating top-quality, responsive technology and a modular, assembly-line building process borrowed from the manufacturing industry. Interior rooms and walls are factory-built from the inside-out in “plug-and-play cartridges,” allowing better customization, technology, adaptability, cost, efficiency, and safety than conventional “stick-built” homes. Cartridges are delivered by truck to a job site, where the homebuilding process is completed in a fraction of the typical time.
FutureHAUS, unveiled room by room over five years in international trade shows, burned in a fire at the Environmental Systems Laboratory at the Prices Fork Research Complex in February. It was just one month after the team completed the full suite of components for the home.
Wheeler said FutureHAUS Dubai is the next generation of FutureHAUS and LumenHAUS, merging the best features of both.
“FutureHAUS Dubai combines a net-positive, energy-producing home with responsive, integrated technology and a super-efficient ‘cartridge’ building process,” Wheeler said. “Virginia Tech’s team will blow your mind by demonstrating how a solar home can be practical, sustainable, affordable, and still be beautifully and thoughtfully designed.”
Students have developed a comprehensive plan covering everything from design, construction, transportation, funding, and marketing, to the competition itself during studios and weekly meetings. From 3-D modeling and material selection to video and social media promotion, each student has specific talents they bring.
Senior Divij (Div) Rajesh, from Richmond, Virginia, leads a team of mechanical engineering students creating the home’s energy budget, mechanical and plumbing systems, testing appliances, and measuring energy efficiency.
“I’ve always been interested in sustainability and renewable energy, because I believe it’s the future,” he said. “FutureHAUS Dubai is one of the most innovative projects I’ve ever seen. It can have a big impact by showing us how we can live more sustainable lives.”
The team has also forged partnerships with industry-leading companies like DuPont, Kohler, Corning, DOW, and Mitsubishi, who are donating materials and expertise and collaborating on new products that may one day hit the marketplace.
“This project means everything to us,” Booth said. “We’re tackling rising populations, urbanization, climate change, technology, and affordability, and exploring how to build with a smaller footprint. Our team is at the forefront of research on flexible living spaces and concepts of aging in place, which are key to the future of housing.”
To support the students, visit https://crowdfund.vt.edu/project/7389.