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Virginia Tech to build FutureHAUS Dubai for 2018 international solar competition

After winning the top collegiate prize for the world’s best solar house in 2010, Virginia Tech is gearing up to do it again in the 2018 Solar Decathlon Middle East.

Virginia Tech is one of 22 universities chosen through a competitive process for the global competition and the only U.S.-based team. Over the next year and a-half, the interdisciplinary faculty-student team will design and build FutureHAUS Dubai, a high-performance, net-zero energy home that meets the city’s complex space and climate needs.

This is Virginia Tech’s first time back at the event since it won the Solar Decathlon Europe six years ago with LumenHAUS. The solar home has been exhibited worldwide and earned the first American Institute of Architects Honor Award ever presented to a university team.

Solar Decathlon teams take the stage in Dubai.

Michael Folta, a student in the School of Architecture + Design, kicked off the university’s bid to win the challenge on stage at World Green Economy Summit, held in Dubai in October 2016.

The team, made up of students and researchers from the College of Architecture and Urban StudiesCollege of EngineeringCollege of Science, and Pamplin College of Business, is already hard at work fundraising, designing, and creating their next masterpiece.

“It’s an honor to represent Virginia Tech on an international platform and to be part of a university that’s leading the way to create smarter, more-sustainable housing for the world,” said Folta, an entering third-year architecture student from Blacksburg, Virginia. “I’m excited to be part of a team that’s building on the work of LumenHAUS and FutureHAUS and carrying it forward in FutureHAUS Dubai.”

Joseph Wheeler, one of the team’s lead faculty members, professor of architecture, and co-director of the Center for Design Research, said FutureHAUS Dubai will be a model of intelligent infrastructure. It will combine the energy efficiency and sustainability of LumenHAUS with the responsive design, prefabrication, and integrated technology of Virginia Tech’s more recent innovation, FutureHAUS.

“We’re working on housing solutions to meet a world population crisis,” Wheeler said. “Our planet will grow by over 2 billion people before 2050 and we need to accommodate them with practical, affordable housing. FutureHAUS Dubai is a prototype for the high-volume production homes of the future that will be smart, sustainable, beautiful, and easily adapted to the needs of communities worldwide.”

After helping lead the Solar Decathlon team to victory in 2010, Wheeler and colleague Denis Gracanin, associate professor in the College of Engineering’s Department of Computer Science, turned their focus to FutureHAUS. The concept allows home components, such as kitchens, bathrooms, audio-visual walls, and closets, to be prefabricated in factories and shipped to a construction site for quick assembly. The homes are pre-finished, pre-plumbed, and pre-wired with integrated smart technologies and detailed interior elements for maximum efficiency and adaptability.

The FutureHAUS team at KBIS in Orlando.

After debuting the fourth and final phase of FutureHAUS to 40,000 attendees at KBIS, the international kitchen and bath industry trade show held in Orlando in January, the team suffered a devastating loss. The FutureHAUS burned down in an accidental electrical fire during high winds at the Environmental Systems Laboratory located in Virginia Tech’s Prices Fork Research Station.

Undaunted by the setback, team members have vowed to reinvent the FutureHAUS in the Solar Decathlon Middle East.

“While this is a devastating loss, it renews our commitment to build the world’s smartest, most sustainable home for Dubai’s extreme environment,” said Joe Wheeler, professor of architecture and co-director of the Center for Design Research at Virginia Tech. “Our plan is to take the research and innovation from FutureHAUS, combine it with what we learned on LumenHAUS, and carry it forward to create the best solar home for the 2018 Solar Decathlon Middle East. With the support of our industry partners and students, we aim to build a prototype that models how the housing industry can adopt smarter, more efficient building practices.”

The Solar Decathlon is an international competition created by the U.S. Department of Energy in which universities from all over the world design, build, and operate the world’s best solar home. The Solar Decathlon Middle East is the newest Decathlon, created through an agreement between the U.S. Department of Energy, the Dubai Supreme Council of Energy, and the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority. Dubai is hosting the event as part of an effort to become the city with the smallest carbon footprint in the world by 2050.

The final phase of the competition takes place back in Dubai in October 2018, where teams demonstrate their homes and are judged in 10 categories. The winning team will blend design excellence and smart energy production with innovation, market appeal, and energy and water efficiency.