CABE Team Awaits Results of International Design Competition

Many of the 11 students have graduated, but remain focused on the Solar Decathlon China 2021 competition.

Their time as College of Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE) students may have come to an end, but teamwork started by 11 students from associate professor Kihong Ku‘s Design 9 & 10 architecture studios continues on an exciting international project.

Over the course of the past academic year, the team has worked with partners at Chinese universities in the Solar Decathlon China 2021 design challenge, a scientific competition centered on green buildings and solar energy technology applications.

In their role, the team developed (and adapted) a concept for a building façade—or integrated an adaptive building envelope—for a structure which will be constructed over the course of two weeks in September.

The 1,600 square-foot structure, which was ranked second in a previous review, will then be judged in October against 14 competitors and displayed as part of the competition near the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, in Zhangjiakou, China.

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The design-build effort, supported by the Eileen Martinson ’86 Fund for the Undergraduate Capstone Experience, centered on meeting requirements for sustainability, innovation, versatility and design aesthetics.

Featuring a double-skin façade, the building envelope integrates the functions of dynamic thermal control, light transmission, ventilation and air purification.

Virtually working alongside peers from Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University and the Zhejiang University-University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Joint Institute, the student team and Ku share that the experience helped them get real-word ready for their professional lives after commencement.

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Olivia Birritteri and Cevan Noell, two members of the team who have since become alumni, agree that one of the greatest benefits of the project was learning how to quickly adapt when challenges arose in the conceptual process.

“It was vastly different than other projects we worked on mainly because we had to deal with the realities of making ideas feasible in terms of construction, timing and budget constraints,” says Birritteri, the leader of a project that ultimately led to a post-commencement job at Stanev Potts Architects. “Throughout the entire process, which started in the fall, we were constantly refining our big idea, and narrowing it down to make it feasible.”

Noell says participating in the ongoing competition was both demanding and fun.

“Getting to design a structure that will be built, and face the realistic challenges that will arise, was an amazing opportunity,” he says. “It was a long project in school terms, but not through the lens of the real world. This gives us a leg up on other students in five-year degree programs, and it’s a great portfolio piece.”

Solar Decathlon China
The CABE team developed (and adapted) a concept for a building façade—or integrated an adaptive building envelope—for a structure which will be constructed over the course of two weeks in September.

Birritteri concurs.

“We understand so much more about real-world implications thanks to this project,” she says. “That’s all a part of working in real world. We’re more prepared than some of our peers.”

Inherent time zone issues notwithstanding, the nature of the COVID-19 pandemic prepared the team for the nature of remotely working and collaborating with peers at the other universities, integrating the use of apps like Autodesk BIM 360, DingTalk and WeChat along the way.

Having to alter their plans left the team feeling conflicted, but both say they’re happy with the almost-finished product. Noell notes that he walks away with invaluable experience in how best to pace these sorts of projects.

“Real-world projects take a lot longer than the time frame we were given, so we had to learn and work very quickly,” Birritteri says. “We all learned a lot about time-management skills.”

As an instructor, I learned a lot by working with them. –Kihong Ku

For his part, Ku, the project advisor, appreciates how the competition challenged the students to face challenges they hadn’t faced before.

“This team of 11 students had to give up some ideas to achieve the larger goal, and they did very well switching over from a concept near and dear to their hearts,” he says. “They were highly driven, and their nimbleness is pretty amazing. As an instructor, I learned a lot by working with them.”

Solar Decathlon China is one of the six international Solar Decathlon competitions which branched off from the U.S. Solar Competition which features two categories: the design challenge in which CABE students have thrived in recent years and the Build Challenge, which mirrors the team’s efforts in China.

Ku notes that the international competitions not only have a broad reach in terms of partnerships between academic institutions and industry leaders, but has led to various innovations and played a major role in educating the public about energy efficiency and sustainable development.

On-site judging will begin in late September. Winners will be announced at an October 8 closing ceremony at which awards ranging from $300,000 for first place to $50,000 going to the fourth-place team.

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