Nineteen university teams from around the world turned West Potomac Park on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., into a futuristic neighborhood last week at the U.S. Department of Energy's fifth biennial Solar Decathlon competition.
The only guidelines? Design, raise money for, build, and live in a self-sufficient house that runs on solar energy. Houses were judged on 10 criteria, including affordability, market appeal, comfort level, architecture, and, of course, energy efficiency. The wide-open guidelines led to a wide variety of houses. Students from the Southern California Institute of Architecture and the California Institute of Technology built something they call CHIP—a hyper-insulated, roomless structure that looks more like a tennis bubble than a house.
"We wanted to create what tomorrow looks like," says project engineer Fei Yang. "We want people to know that this isn't a house you stick a [solar] panel onto—it was designed from the ground up to be like this."