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TAMU’s gro-Home was assembled on the National Mall in Washington, DC, last October.

Regional and Beyond With an eye toward universal adaptability, TAMU’s Solar Decathlon team tweaks its gro-Home by Pliny Fisk, iii


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TAMU’s gro-Home was built with disassembly in mind, and was awarded first place in the Environmental Protection Agency’s DfD competition. This presumably meant that relocation would be a simple and easy undertaking. We recently had a chance to test the project’s adaptability when the house was re-assembled at a temporary location at the George Bush Presidential Library in College Station. We are finding that the buzzwords “plug and play” and “adaptability” have their challenges, specifically in the areas of joints and seals. We’re also learning that what we teach – DfD, DfM, and BIM – are not completely understood by everyone at every stage of the design and manufacturing process. We at TAMU need to take this more seriously, and we soon will have the chance: The ambassador of Ecuador visited the gro-Home on the National Mall and loved our approach, so we are now expecting to sign a $1 million contract for designing and prototyping a Conservation International research community in the Galapagos Islands, the next stop on our journey toward understanding evolutionary structures of all types.

Photo by Prakash Patel courtesy Texas A&M University College of Architecture

Since its inception in 2002, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon has attracted more and more interest in each biannual competition to design and build a 800-square-foot, off-the-grid, solar-powered house. The 2005 and 2007 Decathlons included university teams from Puerto Rico, Spain, and Germany, along with those from several U.S. schools. Because of the interest from farther-flung places, the project entries need to be adaptable to various site, whether or not the house travels halfway around the world after it is assembled and disassembled on the National Mall in Washington, DC, for the judging. So the question of how to address regionally appropriate design – as well as Design for Disassembly (DfD) and Design for Manufacturing (DfM) – is always critical to the project. The issue of where and how all these very expensive mobile life-support systems end up after the competition – and whether they fit in once they are relocated – calls for these buildings to perform well wherever they might end up. Performance that is almost universally adaptable is one of the most dynamic aspects of the Decathlon. For Texas A&M’s 2007 entry, the long-term challenges – and payoffs – of looking beyond the Decathlon have become evident.

Pliny Fisk, III, was the lead advisor for the 2007 TAMU Solar Decathlon team.

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Texas Architect July/Aug 2008: Regional Response  

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