Solar Decathlon Team Hosts “Site Warming” Party in DC

Solar Decathlon team member Obinna Elechi, a Parsons Architecture student (right), speaks with community member

Solar Decathlon team member Obinna Elechi, a Parsons Architecture student (right), speaks with community member

Rain could not dampen the ebullient spirits of 28 New School students and faculty who spent last Sunday afternoon in a vacant lot in Deanwood, a neighborhood in Northeast Washington, D.C. They were there to celebrate Empowerhouse: an innovative project to create a new model for sustainable, affordable housing.

Empowerhouse is The New School entry in the 2011 Solar Decathlon, an international biennial competition which challenges colleagiate design teams to build and operate solar-powered homes for exhibition on the National Mall. Unlike teams composed solely of architects or engineers, the Empowerhouse team will benefit from the interdisciplinary expertise of Parsons, Milano and Stevens Institute of Technology, our partner for the project.

Like any New School project, though, Empowerhouse takes the competition one step further. These enterprising students and faculty are working with Habitat for Humanity and the District of Columbia Department of Housing and Community Development to build a second solar home in Deanwood. At the conclusion of the competition, the two houses will be joined together to create a permanent two-family, home for area residents.

“Sustainable design intersects a number of fields. Our team brings together students with a wide range of expertise to tackle this ambitious goal,” said Hannah Zingre, an environmental studies student at Parsons. “We are excited to be working with local residents to make our vision a reality, a home that is not only attractive and welcoming, but most importantly is economically and environmentally sustainable.”

On Sunday, amidst hot dogs and solar games, the team mingled with the community to discuss sustainability with Deanwood neighbors, from what it means to build a “net-zero” home that produces all of its own energy, to the benefits of growing vegetables on a roof garden and in window boxes.

“The project is a monumental step for Deanwood,” said Sylvia Brown, an advisory neighborhood commissioner who was instrumental in making the project a reality. A historically African-American community located in one of the greenest wards in Washington, Deanwood is currently being revitalized through economic development and sustainability initiatives. Residents recently participated in the CarbonFree DC “Extreme Green Neighborhood Makeover,” which retrofitted low and moderate-income homes to make them more sustainable.

One of Empowerhouse’s major goals is creating a new standard that can be replicated around the world. As our knowledge of energy efficiency has increased, we have taken initial steps to ‘think green’, but Empowerhouse gives us the opportunity to take our efforts to a new level,” said David Gano, director of construction for Habitat for Humanity of Washington, D.C.

This fall, students continue their community outreach efforts as well as develop the design for the homes, while Habitat selects the families who will reside in them. Groundbreaking is slated for next spring, so that both homes are open and operational in time for the Solar Decathlon in October 2011.

For more information and to find out how to get involved, contact the team at empowerhouse@newschool.edu.