The Drexel Smart House:
Designed for Progress by Tess Wittler hat does the house of the future look like? Students at Drexel University are unearthing answers through a unique student-led program: The Smart House. The Smart House was conceived by students three years ago and has since grown into one of the most diverse organizations on campus with up to 200 people involved in various projects. “The Smart House philosophy is unique,” said Eric Eisele, Smart House director of research. “We aren’t constructing a new building. Instead, we are seeing how we can improve the sustainability of an existing building in an urban environment.” “Energy efficiency is a massive global concern, so one of the goals with Smart House is to see how we can do more by using the same amount of energy,” said Patrick Hoffman, Smart House director of facilities. The Smart House organization secured from Drexel University a vacant 5,000-square-foot fraternity house, located at 35th and Race streets, Philadelphia. When completed, this house will function as a home for students and also will serve as a testing site for new technologies that are meant to improve and simplify life in these five areas: environment, energy, interaction, health and lifestyle. “We’ll test technologies in a functional way, so we can determine not only if the technology works as it should but also if people can live with it,” said Jameson Detweiler, Smart House president. Ultimately, the liveability factor determines whether or not a product will be successful when brought to market. Projects in each of these five areas are already underway. “We are taking advantage of the classes available at Drexel, and as a result, more people are participating,” said Prineha Narang, a student being groomed as successor to the current Smart House research director. For now, the Smart House project is funded through private sponsorships and grants; however, the students foresee that as
the project moves forward, others in the building and technology industries will want to get involved. “We’d like to partner with those who want to test their technology in this fashion,” said Detweiler. The Smart House has already seen success through individual projects, including one that addresses natural lighting in an urban environment. “We developed daylight simulated LED lighting, and from that, our first start-up company sprouted, Summalux, LLC,” said Eisele. Additionally, a new architectural coating that the students believe is extremely effective at reflecting solar radiation was developed and is being tested. Voice-activated systems and reflective displays also are being considered. Another success is the way the Smart House project has cut across departmental and college borders. “We bring extreme groups of people together to work. In the past, we’ve paired interior design students with engineering students to work on a multidisciplinary research project,” said Cody Ray, Smart House vice president. The Smart House recently reached its first big milestone by selecting a design for the house as a result of a year-long design competition.* But the students understand that this project will continue long after their time at Drexel is done. “As students look to graduate, there are systems in place to ensure the transition goes smoothly, just like we are designing the house so we can change things very easily as technology evolves,” said Detweiler. Even when Detweiler and Eisle graduate, they will still be involved in Smart House. “Summalux is our company, and we plan to use Smart House for testing,” said Detweiler. s *At time of publication, designs were not publicly released.
I Keystone Builder • May/June 2009
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Students at Drexel University are unearthing what the future may look like in a unique student-led program: The Smart House