LUMENHAUS Lights the Way

Courtesy Virginia Tech

By William Richards

You may remember Virginia Tech’s LUMENHAUS from the 2009 U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon, when the Blacksburg, Virginia team placed 13th behind the Germans, the Canadians, and ten American teams. You may also remember seeing LUMENHAUS in Times Square during a week-long stint in January or on ABC’s Good Morning America.

But, nobody will miss LUMENHAUS now. Beating the Ikaros House University of Applied Sciences in Rosenheim, Germany by a single point, Virginia Tech advanced as the winner of the first Solar Decathlon Europe, held in Madrid, Spain, on June 28th.

“We are thrilled with the win. I was in Madrid and the other houses were really world class at a number of levels making this even more exciting,” said Scott Poole, AIA, Director of the School of Architecture and Design at Virginia Tech.

LUMENHAUS in Madrid, June, 2010. Courtesy Virginia Tech.

The competition’s emphasis on evidence-based performance required each team to demonstrate energy efficiency, but it also required them to build a structure that could stand as an outreach tool as well as an economically viable option for development.

Taking a cue from Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House in Plano, Illinois (1951), the Virginia Tech team organized LUMENHAUS within a simple cubic volume. Like the Farnsworth House, LUMENHAUS’ open floor plan and flexible arrangement of interior spaces, as well as the exterior skin, encourage visual transparency. Unlike the naked glass of Mies’ mid-century icon, however, the multi-layered skin of LUMENHAUS works to promote energy-saving strategies.

Energy efficiency is not about isolating interior spaces, but opening them up to the outside. According to team advisor Andrew McCoy, an assistant professor of building construction at Virginia Tech, bringing the outside in was also about reclaiming square footage. “We were talking about 800 gross square feet and when you discounted that total for mechanical and circulation systems, we were left with about 650 square feet,” he said.

“As we have become more efficient in building homes, how much more of our living space will have to be eaten up by that process? We had to make it livable with a view out while keeping energy in,” said McCoy.

The Virginia Tech team celebrates on June 28, 2010. Courtesy Solar Decathlon Europe.

The structure’s automated Eclipsis system conserves energy in two ways. Hanging on the outside of the building, stainless steel sunscreens keep the sun at bay without dimming the interior spaces by using a series of circles carved at different angles. Between the sunscreen and the actual interior space, polycarbonate walls keep the house cool (or warm) by using aerogel with an R-value of about 30.

Other geothermal, heating and cooling features in the building include an automated geothermal-tied heat-pump, radiant floor heating, and the Siemans APOGEE Building Control System, which utilizes a software and web application to monitor and manage all of the systems together.

Lead faculty on the Virginia Tech LUMENHAUS project included College of Architecture and Urban Studies faculty Joseph Wheeler, Robert Dunay, Robert Schubert, and 10 other faculty advisors in architecture, computer science, landscape architecture, and engineering. Nearly 100 students contributed to the project since its start in 2007, including student leaders in the College of Architecture and Urban

Interior fixtures and finishes at LUMENHAUS. Courtesy Virginia Tech.

Studies Alden Haley of Glen Allen, Virginia, Corey McCalla of Rockville, Virginia, D. B. Clark of Fredericksburg, Virginia, and Chris Taylor of Aldie, Virginia.

In total, 17 teams from seven countries participated in Solar Decathlon Europe. Organized by Spain’s Ministry of Housing and the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid and the U.S. Department of Energy, the event drew 190,000 visitors. An international jury of experts assessed each project across 10 different contests, which included architecture, engineering and construction, solar systems and hot water, energy balance, comfort conditions, appliances and functionality, communication and social awareness, industrialization and market viability, innovation, and, sustainability.

William Richards is the Editor-in-Chief of Inform: Architecture and Design in the Mid-Atlantic.

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  1. Prize for Design Research and Scholarship Announced | VSAIA - November 5, 2010

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